Fibrocystic breast condition is a common, non-cancerous condition that affects more than 50% of women at some point in their lives. The most common signs of fibrocystic breasts include lumpiness, tenderness, cysts (packets of fluid), areas of thickening, fibrosis (scar-like connective tissue), and breast pain. Having fibrocystic breasts, in and of itself, is not a risk factor for breast cancer. However, fibrocystic breast condition can sometimes make it more difficult to detect a hidden breast cancer with standard examination and imaging techniques.
Fibrocystic changes occur during ovulation and just before menstruation. During these times, hormone level changes often cause the breast cells to retain fluid and develop into nodules or cysts (sacs filled with fluid), which feel like a lump when touched. The nodules or cysts can spread throughout the breast, may be located in one general area or simply appear as one or more large cysts. If the lump is not filled with fluid, it is called a fibro adenoma.
The cause is not completely understood, but the changes are believed to be associated with ovarian hormones since the condition usually subsides with menopause, and may vary in consistency during the menstrual cycle.
Many hormones aside from estrogen and progesterone also play an important role in causing fibrocystic breasts. Prolactin, growth factor, insulin, and thyroid hormone are some of the other major hormones that are produced outside of the breast tissue, yet act in important ways on the breast. In addition, the breast itself produces hormonal products from its glandular and fat cells. Signals that are released from these hormonal products are sent to neighboring breast cells.
The incidence of it is estimated to be over 60% of all women. It is common in women between the ages of 30 and 50, and rare in postmenopausal women. The incidence is lower in women taking birth control pills. The risk factors may include family history and diet (such as excessive dietary fat, and caffeine intake), although these are controversial.
Pain and lumps in the breast may be breast cancer or infections. They may spread to the armpit. Lumps in the armpit may also occur with metastatic cancer, lymphoma or Hodgkin’s disease. Breast pain may also occur with fibrocystic disease and pregnancy.
Symptoms can be on one or both sides, and can reach up to and under the armpit.Many women first notice fibrocystic breast changes in their 30s. At this age, your hormone levels start to vary more than before.
Begin in the underarm area. Slowly move your fingers down until they are below your breast. Move your fingers closer toward your nipple and go slowly back up, using the same motion. Use this up-and-down pattern all the way across your breast.
There’s no specific treatment for fibrocystic breast changes. Some simple measures, such as wearing a supportive bra with the correct fit, may provide relief from the pain and discomfort associated with fibrocystic breast changes. Reducing or limiting caffeine in your diet also may help. Signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes often go away completely after menopause.
Therapeutic doses of vitamin E are sometimes advised by a medical provider in an effort to control severe symptoms of breast pain and engorgement associated with fibrocystic breast condition. Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin which can be toxic in high doses, this therapy should be used only under the supervision of a medical provider.