Fibrocystic Breasts

What are fibrocystic breasts?

Fibrocystic breasts are breasts which have undergone changes in the structure of their tissue. The breasts may feel lumpy or even painful. It is important to keep track of any changes to the breasts, especially if symptoms worsen or persist. Fibrocystic breasts are not a cancerous condition. However, the change in tissue may complicate the process of screening for breast cancer and in some cases the condition may increase the risk of contracting breast cancer. Up to 50% of women, usually between the age of 30 to 50 years suffer from fibrocystic breasts. In most cases, treatment is not required.

Risks

The tissue of the breast changes significantly during a woman’s lifetime. Breast tissue changes over the course of the menstrual cycle, and also alter significantly during periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding. These changes are a reaction to the fluctuating levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the body. Changes in hormone levels are also believed to increase the likelihood of developing fibrocystic breasts. The condition is common, affecting around half of all women during their lifetime. Women between 30 and 50 years are most commonly affected, although it can affect premenopausal women of any age. Taking the contraceptive pill may reduce the likelihood of developing fibrocystic breasts. Taking hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) after the menopause can cause women to develop fibrocystic breasts.

Symptoms

The symptoms of fibrocystic breasts can be different from person to person. Some women may not have any symptoms at all. However, many women experience painful or tender breasts or some form of nipple discharge. It is also common for women to feel lumps in their breasts, or experience a change in breast size. Women who have not yet been through menopause may notice changes to their menstrual cycle. The condition can develop in one or both breasts.

Diagnosis

Fibrocystic breasts are usually diagnosed on the basis of a physical examination. X-rays of the breasts, ultrasound or mammography scans may be taken by the physician. In order to rule out a cancer diagnosis, a sample of any lumps may be taken.

Treatment

Most people with fibrocystic breasts do not require specific treatment. People with fibrocystic breasts may find that simple pain-killers (paracetamol) may help with the pain and tenderness at times. Many people also find supportive bras and warm compresses helpful to reduce pain. People with distressing or severe symptoms may benefit from hormone therapy or surgery to remove the lumps.

Prevention

Women with fibrocystic breasts may be more difficult to examine for breast cancer, especially in women who continue to suffer from fibrocystic breasts after menopause. Carrying out regular breast checks oneself as well as check-ups with a GP is advisable in order to identify new lumps early.

Other names for fibrocystic breasts

  • Benign breast lumps
  • Fibroadenosis