Table of Contents
Definition of Fibrocystic Breast Disease
A chronic condition in which multiple noncancerous cysts develop in the breasts. As the cysts rupture and heal, they cause clusters of scarlike tissue that form palpable lumps in the breast.
Though called a disease, this condition is benign (harmless and noncancerous) and very common, affecting more women than not; doctors consider it a normal process associated with the fluctuation of hormones during the menstrual cycle. Fibrocystic breast disease commonly affects both breasts though may affect only one breast.
The health concerns of fibrocystic breast disease are twofold. First, the cysts often cause pain and swelling of the breasts, particularly in the week before and the first day or two of the menstrual period. Second, it is not possible to be certain a breast lump is a cyst, raising concerns about breast cancer.
As well, though the cysts themselves do not become cancerous, when they are abundant their presence can delay detection of a breast cancer tumor. Fibrocystic breasts are more dense, decreasing the effectiveness of the mammogram.
Symptoms and Diagnostic Path
Fibrocystic breasts are typically painful. The discomfort may be persistent, having the quality of dull aching or a sensation of fullness, or cyclic tenderness that intensifies the week before and first few days of the menstrual period. Other symptoms may include
- Bumpy or lumpy texture to one quadrant, one side, or all of the breast
- Itching or tingling of the nipples
- Premenstrual swelling of the breasts
Fibrocystic lumps are characteristically rubbery, smooth, and rounded. With palpation they move within the breast; they are not anchored to the underlying structure of the breast. The diagnostic path includes comprehensive palpation of the breasts.
Depending on the woman’s age, health history, risk for breast cancer, and other factors, the doctor may use diagnostic imaging procedures such as mammogram and breast ultrasound to obtain additional information about the shape, size, and pattern of the fibrocystic tissue.
The doctor may also biopsy several lumps to evaluate their pathology (cell structure and organization) and rule out other causes for the symptoms.
Treatment Options and Outlook
Lifestyle treatments that help mediate discomfort include wearing a supportive bra when symptoms are most significant. Some women get relief by limiting their intake of dietary fats and caffeine, though clinical studies of the correlations between these factors and fibrocystic breasts so far have produced inconclusive and sometimes conflicting findings.
Others find that vitamin E, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and the herbal preparation evening primrose oil reduce tenderness and swelling. Medical interventions that may provide relief include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (nsaids), which reduce inflammation, and oral contraceptives (birth control pills), which regulate the hormonal cycle.
Nearly always the discomforts of fibrocystic breasts abate with menopause and the lumpiness of the breasts diminishes, though some fibrocystic tissue remains.
Risk Factors and Preventive Measures
There are no clear risk factors or measures to prevent fibrocystic breast disease. It is important for women who have fibrocystic breasts to be diligent in performing monthly breast self-examination and to see their health-care providers when they detect any changes in their breasts.
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