Fibrocystic Breasts

What are Fibrocystic Breasts?

Fibrocystic breasts, also sometimes referred to as fibrocystic breast disease, are a condition in which the breasts feel lumpy or almost rope-like when touched or palpated. Because fibrocystic breasts are quite common among women, many physicians shy away from referring to the condition as a disease anymore.

Fibrocystic breasts are characterized by nodular breast tissue. There are two different types of fibrocystic breasts. These are known as fibrosis and cysts. Fibrosis is a condition that affects the fibrous tissue of the breasts and is similar to the formation of scar tissue and may feel rubbery or hard. Cysts, on the other hand, are sacs filled with fluid that are what feel like lumps in the breasts. These cysts may be small or large in size and some may not be palpable while others are.

Doctors are not sure why fibrocystic breasts develop. However, the condition may be linked to reproductive hormones, namely estrogen. Women who are of reproductive age are those who most commonly experience fibrocystic breasts though a woman of any age can develop fibrocystic breasts.

What are the Symptoms of Fibrocystic Breasts?

There are numerous potential symptoms of fibrocystic breasts.

Symptoms include

Many women experience pain or redness in their breasts when the condition develops. They may also have lumps that bulge out or cause dips back into the breast tissue. Breasts may also have areas that feel hardened or thickened. Some women also experience discharge from their breasts and s long as it is not bloody, it is considered a common symptom of the condition.

Other symptoms can include breast swelling around the time of menstruation, itching, and burning of the breasts.

Fibrocystic Breast Causes

The exact causes of fibrocystic breast condition are unknown. It is thought that hormones may play a role in the development of tumor in the breasts, most likely estrogen. Breast tissue changes normally in response to hormones, but those with fibrocystic breast condition have an increased response to these changes. It is unknown as to why some women experience an increased response and some do not. The fluctuating hormones during a woman’s menstrual cycle combined with the increased response in some women are what mechanically cause the painful symptoms of fibrocystic breast condition. As soon as the menstrual cycle is over, the breasts usually return to normal. Fibrocystic breast condition affects all areas of the breasts and can cause tenderness and swelling in most areas. Multiple cases of the disease can cause a build-up of fibrocystic tissues, causing the disease to become worse.

How are Fibrocystic Breasts Treated?

Generally, a person will not need treatment for fibrocystic breasts. A simple breast exam performed by a physician when the condition is first noticed can help to relieve concern and worry and monthly breast exams after the fact can help a woman to determine whether their breast lumps are caused by fibrocystic growths or another issue.

Treatment includes

Over-the-counter pain medications can also help to relieve inflammation and pain caused by fibrocystic breasts. Wearing supportive bras and comfortable clothing can also help to relieve pressure and sometimes taking oral contraceptives can help to regulate hormones and prevent severe symptoms. Cysts that are causing extreme discomfort can be aspirated to have the fluid drained, but they will refill and as such, these procedures are rarely performed for fibrocystic breasts.

Fibrocystic Breast Prevention

It is unknown the exact way to prevent fibrocystic breast condition. There are risk factors than can be watched for in order to predict the disease. The condition is common in women, though it is more common in women who are older than 30 years. It is possible that birth control pills can reduce or prevent symptoms of fibrocystic breast condition. Some hormone therapies may put women at a higher risk for the condition. Going through menopause causes symptoms to greatly reduce and in most cases can even halt the disease. Some women who have breast cancer are at risk for fibrocystic breast condition, and the condition is also considered a risk factor for developing breast cancer. The greatest concern with the disease is that it can possibly mask breast cancer. Though it is not well studied, some women have found relief through avoiding stimulants and otherwise eating a well-balanced diet and getting moderate exercise.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
December 21, 2017