Understanding Fibrocystic Breasts: Symptoms, Causes, and Management

A common condition that may affect many women today is fibrocystic breasts. This is often referred to as fibrocystic breast disease and is sometimes misdiagnosed as breast cancer. The condition involves the development or change of the breast tissue into a lumpy or nodular state that can either be tender or painful. It is important to understand how this disease presents itself so as not to suddenly assume it is breast cancer, especially when you’re doing your breast self-examination

It Is Not a Sign of Breast Cancer

While there have been studies linking women that have BOTH fibrocystic breasts and family history of breast cancer with increased risk of breast cancer, having fibrocystic breasts alone DOES NOT increase the risk of breast cancer for the individual. This is why it is important to understand the symptoms associated with this condition so as to not mistake it for breast cancer signs.

Symptoms and Causes of Fibrocystic Breasts:

During a menstrual cycle it is possible to have hormonal fluctuations that may influence the fibrocystic changes in the breasts. These changes will then lead to the following symptoms:

  1. Lumpiness and Nodularity: The lumpiness will feel like clumps of rope and can actually change in size throughout the menstrual period. These can also vary in location in your breasts and are not limited to one specific area.
  2. Tenderness and Pain: While it is normal to feel pain in the breasts when hormones are fluctuating, persistent pain and tenderness coupled with the lumpiness is another symptom indicating the fibrocystic tissue. You may also feel this pain in areas near the breasts such as your underarms.
  3. Cysts and Fluid-Filled Sacs: often may start as micro cysts that grow inside the breast glands but may swell up and grow into the larger macro cysts. 
  4. Breast Appearance: especially if the cysts have grown into macrocysts and the fibrosis (clumping of tissues) becomes more prominent, one may notice a significant change of appearance in the breasts overall. 

Management and Lifestyle Recommendations:

Fibrocystic breasts are not generally a life-threatening disease, in fact, Mayo clinic states that more than half of women will develop this condition at some point of their lives. For some women it can be bothersome to the point that it gets in the way of their daily lives. There are proven treatments that can be done to alleviate the discomfort from this condition.

Pain-management is often the solution most women take. Your doctor can prescribe to you a pain-reliever you can take that will help with the discomfort. In cases where fluid build-up becomes excessive, an aspiration (fluid removal using a needle) procedure can be done to drain the cysts. 

Dietary changes may also help such as eating lesser inflammatory foods (processed food, sugary food). Some may even advise on lowering the caffeine intake but it is important to note that this advice is not backed by any study. 

Perhaps one of the gifts of aging is that when you have less of the hormones that cause these changes, you will tend to see less of the symptoms from fibrocystic breasts.

When Is It Serious

In cases where you will notice more unusual lumps that are different from the fluid-filled cysts or ropy lumps of tissue, then perhaps it is time to see your doctor and have a more thorough examination. Redness or external irritation on the skin of your breasts is also another symptom you need to have your doctor check. Bloody or clear discharge from your nipples is not considered normal so be on the lookout if you see anything other than milk-like fluid (if you’re breastfeeding). 

Continue To Do Regular Self-Exams 

As you become more familiar with these symptoms and your breasts in general, you will have an idea of what is normal and what might be a change that is worth mentioning to your doctor. If unsure, you can still discuss your fibrocystic breasts symptoms with your doctor as they can guide you better in differentiating them from lumps which are cause for concern.

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