Fibrocystic Breast Disease
What is fibrocystic breast disease?
Fibrocystic breast disease, commonly called fibrocystic breast or fibrocystic change, is a benign (non-cancerous) condition in which the breasts feel lumpy. Fibrocystic breasts are not harmful or dangerous, but for some women they can be uncomfortable or bothersome.
According to the Mayo Clinic, more than half of women will develop fibrocystic breast disease at some point in their lives. Many women with fibrocystic breasts will not have any associated symptoms.
While it is not harmful to have fibrocystic breasts, it can make detecting breast cancer more difficult.
Picture of fibrocystic breast tissue
What are the symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease?
If you have fibrocystic breast disease, you may experience the following symptoms:
- tissue thickening
- lumps in one or both breasts
One breast may have more swelling or a lump than the other. Your symptoms will likely be worse before your period due to hormonal changes, but you may have symptoms throughout the month.
Lumps in fibrocystic breasts tend to fluctuate in size throughout the month and are usually mobile. But sometimes if there is a lot of fibrous tissue, the lumps can be more stable in one place.
You may also experience pain under your arms. Some women have green or dark brown discharge from their nipples.
See your doctor right away if a clear, red, or bloody fluid comes out of your nipple, as this may be a sign of breast cancer.
What causes fibrocystic breast disease?
Your breast tissue changes in response to the hormones produced by the ovaries. If you have fibrocystic breasts, there may be more pronounced changes in response to these hormones. This can cause swelling and tender or painful breast lumps.
Symptoms are most common at the earliest or during your period. You may develop swelling in your breasts and breast lobes caused by cysts, swelling of the milk-producing glands. You may also feel a lumpy thickening in your breast caused by excessive fibrous tissue growth.
Who gets fibrocystic breast disease?
Any woman can develop fibrocystic breast disease, but it is most common in women in their 20s and 50s.
Birth control pills can reduce your symptoms, and hormone therapy can increase them. Symptoms typically improve or resolve after menopause.
Fibrocystic breast disease and cancer
Fibrocystic breast disease does not increase your risk of getting cancer, but changes in your breasts can make it harder for you or your doctor to identify potentially cancerous lumps during breast exams and mammograms.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women ages 50 to 74 get a mammogram every two years.
It is important that you learn how your breasts normally look and feel; so you know when there are changes or something doesn’t look right.
How is fibrocystic breast disease diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose fibrocystic breast disease by performing a physical breast exam.
Your doctor may also order a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI to get a better look at the changes in your breasts. A digital mammogram may be recommended for women with fibrocystic breasts, as this technology allows for more accurate breast imaging.
In some cases, ultrasound can help distinguish normal breast tissue from abnormalities. If your doctor is concerned about the appearance of a cyst or other findings in your breast, they may order a biopsy to find out if you have cancer.
This biopsy is usually done by fine needle aspiration. This is a surgical procedure to remove fluid or tissue using a small needle. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a core needle biopsy of a small amount of tissue to be examined.
How is fibrocystic breast disease treated?
Most women with fibrocystic breast disease do not require invasive treatment. Home treatment is usually sufficient to relieve the associated pain and discomfort.
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) usually relieve any pain and discomfort. You can also try wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra to reduce breast pain and tenderness.
Some women find that applying a hot or cold compress relieves their symptoms. Try applying a warm washcloth or ice wrapped in a cloth to your breasts to see which works best for you.
Some people find that limiting their caffeine intake, eating a low-fat diet, or taking an essential fatty acid supplement can reduce their symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease.
However, there are no randomized controlled trials showing that this or any dietary change is effective in relieving symptoms.
When should you call your doctor?
Call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms. Breast cancer symptoms may include:
- new or unusual lumps in your breasts
- skin rash or chills
- especially if it is clean, red, or bloody
- indentation or flattening of your nipple
The specific cause of fibrocystic breast disease is not fully understood. However, doctors suspect that estrogen and other reproductive hormones play a role.
As a result, your symptoms disappear when you reach menopause, as the fluctuation and production of these hormones decreases and stabilizes.
Breast cancer: Screening. (2016).
Fibrocystic breast tissue. (Nd).
Fibrosis and simple cysts. (2017).
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Fibrocystic breasts.
Breast changes and conditions. (2018).