Fibrocystic breast disease is a name for healthy breast tissue that feels lumpy and may be painful at times. It is not a true disease and is not harmful. The medical community sometimes refers to the condition as fibrocystic changes.
Fibrocystic breast disease is very common. Some experts estimate that about 50 percent of women ages 20–50 in the United States experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point.
In this article, learn about the symptoms and causes of fibrocystic breast disease, as well as how to get relief and when to see a doctor.
Medical experts have yet to fully understand the cause of fibrocystic breast disease, but there appears to be a strong association between hormones and breast changes.
Breast tissue responds to fluctuating levels of hormones, especially estrogen.
Changes in the breasts may include:
an overgrowth of cells that line the milk ducts
an increase in fibrous tissue
the formation of cysts
People who develop fibrocystic changes may be more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle. It is common for symptoms to become more bothersome right before or during a menstrual period.
Fibrocystic breast disease tends to affect people who are premenopausal and between the ages of 20 and 50.
Some people who take estrogen replacement therapy after menopause also develop fibrocystic changes.
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Symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease may come and go during the menstrual cycle. Symptoms may also vary from month to month.
The changes typically occur in both breasts, but lumps and pain may be worse in one breast than the other.
Although it can vary, the pain or discomfort is usually located in the undersides of the breasts or in the upper areas, when the majority of milk glands are.
Typical symptoms include:
breasts that feel lumpy or have rope-like bumps
pain under the armpit
breasts that feel heavy
While lumpy breasts and discomfort are common in people with fibrocystic breast disease, it is essential to know when to see a doctor.
If a person develops new lumps or skin puckering, or if the pain continues to get worse, it is best to speak to a doctor.
Is it linked to cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, having fibrocystic breast disease does not increase a person’s chances of developing breast cancer. There is no known association between the two conditions.
Fibrocystic breast disease may make it difficult to differentiate between a new breast lump and fibrocystic changes.
Doing monthly breast self-exams and following a doctor’s recommendations for clinical exams and mammograms can help catch any harmful changes early.
Woman looking in the mirror with hand on chest
Symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease can include tenderness and swelling.
A doctor may diagnose fibrocystic breast disease after a clinical breast exam and a review of symptoms.
During the exam, the doctor feels each breast to check for lumps or abnormal areas. Fibrocystic breast changes tend to feel different from the lumps associated with breast cancer.
Usually, fibrocystic changes involve lumps that are not attached to the surrounding tissue. The lumps are typically moveable when a doctor palpates them.
Sometimes, a lump may feel firmer than usual, or a doctor may have other concerns. Performing a mammogram or breast ultrasound can help them make a diagnosis.
These imaging tests reveal more detail about the breast tissue and any cysts, such as whether a cyst is fluid-filled or solid. If a cyst is found to be both solid and fluid filled, a biopsy can help rule out cancer.
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Categories: PHYSICAL HEALTH