A fibroadenoma is a term for a benign tumor in the breast tissue. Since it is benign, a fibroadenoma is not cancerous by definition. These tumors can grow in the fibrous tissues (also known as the stromal or connective tissues) of the breast as well as in the glandular tissues. Generally speaking, fibroadenomas are hard breast tumors, they may feel smooth and solid when palpated with clean margins almost like a marble.
These breast tumors are most common in young women in adolescence as well as women under the age of 30. However, they can occur later in life as well. A woman may develop just a single fibroadenoma or may have several of them at the same time.
Physicians and researchers have yet to determine a specific reason or cause for fibroadenomas to develop. However, there may be a link between the development of these non-cancerous breast masses and increases in levels of reproductive hormones. This may partially explain why such growths are common during a woman’s reproductive years.
Fibroadenomas can sometimes be felt through the skin, though they can also be too small or found too deep in the breast tissue to be noticeable. If they are noticeable, fibroadenomas are usually painless and can be felt as smooth, movable masses under the skin.
The exact causes of a fibroadenoma of the breast are unknown. Tumors can grow and shrink or completely disappear and resolve themselves on their own with no apparent cause. It is suspected that hormones can play a role in tumor growth in the breasts, most likely estrogen. Taking oral contraceptives at a younger age, specifically in the teenage years, is associated with a higher risk of developing a fibroadenoma later on; lower usage of oral contraceptives is associated with a lower chance of developing a fibroadenoma. It is suspected they are related to hormones because these tumors are more common in younger women and have a tendency to appear most often during puberty or pregnancy when hormone levels are higher in the body. They also have been shown to shrink or resolve themselves during menopause when hormone levels are lower. There are studies being done to further understand how they develop, but it is thought that hormone receptors in the breast tissue might play a part.
Having a doctor perform a breast exam to diagnose fibroadenomas is often the only treatment necessary for these benign growths. They do not cause pain or other health problems as long as they remain stable in size and shape and cause no pain.
However, if a breast lump is painful or seems to be growing when it was previously stable, the growth may be a different type of mass other than a fibroadenoma. Additionally, some fibroadenomas do cause pain or discomfort if they are particularly large or are in location where the underwire of a bra may hit it. If this is the case, they can be surgically removed. Because fibroadenomas shrink and go away on their own in most cases, most do not require such surgeries.
As with all tumors, it is hard to say what exactly can prevent one but it is known that early detection of a tumor is crucial. It is important to know the risk factors to make detection easier. Fibroadenomas are most common in younger women under 30, but they are known to affect all women. While they are usually benign, they can carry some risks with them for future breast cancer prognoses, so it is still important to have them checked by a doctor. While there is no study to confirm, it has been reported by those with fibroadenomas that balanced diets including plenty of vitamins and moderate exercise can reduce the tumor or help prevent it entirely. Being at risk of breast cancer can possibly contribute to also being at risk for developing a fibroadenoma.