Fibrocystic Breast Tissue
What Is Fibrocystic Breast Tissue?
Fibrocystic breast tissue or fibrocystic changes are terms used to explain symptoms of the breasts that may include pain, soreness, swelling, nipple discharge, or diffuse lumpy tissue. Almost 80% of women, often between the ages of 30-55, will have some or all of these symptoms. In fact, we now believe it should no longer be called a disease. Symptoms often occur just before the monthly period with relief after the period until mid cycle when symptoms will again occur. Symptoms may also become worse during the years just before menopause. These changes are believed to be a result of hormone effects on the gland type tissue in the breast. After menopause many of these symptoms go away as this tissue is reduced in size.
Normal Breast Anatomy
The breasts are made up of glandular, fatty, and fibrous tissue. During breast self exams (BSE), it is normal to feel some lumpy, tender tissue when the breasts are felt. Words often used to describe what is being felt are "ropy, pebbly, or gritty."
Normal breasts often feel lumpy because they are made up of milk glands, fat, and fibrous tissue.
A Fibrocystic Breast has
Many, small cysts (fluid filled sacs) or lumps that often feel tender, smooth, round, and can move.
Small cysts of fibrous tissue can make a breast feel lumpier. Many women will get cysts.
How Can My Symptoms Be Relieved?
You may notice that your symptoms may improve right after your period. Sometimes symptoms last during your cycle. In rare cases extreme symptoms may last longer. Things that may be helpful include:
- Reduce or stop eating aged and processed cheese, red wine, and non-fresh fish. These all contain tyramine, which may cause breast symptoms to worsen.
- Oil of evening primrose may help, either in the form of a gel capsule by mouth (300-400mg per day in divided doses) or as a cream to be applied to the skin. Do not use these if there is a chance you could become pregnant.
- Vitamin E (400 - 800 IU/day).
- Vitamin B complex (containing B3 & B6) daily.
- Ibuprofen, Tylenol®, or other simple pain relief.
- Applying warm pads to the breast.
- Wearing a good support bra.
- Reduce breast swelling by cutting down salt intake – even more so during the two weeks before your period.
- Some people have noticed that reducing or stopping caffeine helps relieve symptoms. This would include drinks that contain caffeine such as coffee, tea, or colas or foods that contain chocolate.
- Drinks or foods that contain estrogen-like compounds may also cause breast symptoms. These may include herbs such as soy, red clover, ginseng, or black cohosh.
How Do I Know When I Should See a Health Care Provider About a Breast Problem?
Tell your health care provider about any new change in your breast tissue. These changes can include:
- A change in skin color or texture, skin puckers, or dimples,
- A change in how the nipple looks (change in direction, inversion, elevation, discharge),
- Sudden size increase of one breast,
- A single lump that does not feel like the rest of the breast tissue or gets bigger over time.
Chances are great that nothing will be wrong, but it is best to report this to your health care provider promptly.
Is Fibrocystic Breast Tissue a Risk For Breast Cancer?
Women who have fibrocystic changes are not thought to be at higher risk for getting breast cancer. There are many types of fibrocystic changes. We are learning more about those types that might be more likely to become a cancer. The types that have an increased risk for breast cancer include hyperplasia or papilloma (slightly increased risk), and atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) (somewhat increased risk) and phyllodes tumor.
The major problem for women who have these breast changes is the small chance that an early cancer is not found by mammogram or physical exam. This may occur because of the cancer's size, where it is, or the type of breast tissue. This means careful breast exams are vital in women who have fibrocystic changes.
Most breast cancers are single lumps that are often fixed, firm, well defined, and do not change with your period. Breast cancer lumps are often painless.
If found early, chances for a cure are high. Please consult your health care provider for any questions about breast changes or breast cancer.
What Can I Do to Maintain Breast Health?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. We do not know how to prevent breast cancer, but we do know ways to help find cancer early. The American Cancer Society guidelines are:
1. Yearly mammogram and Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) by your health care provider starting at age 40, and continuing for as long as you are in good health
2. For women in their 20s and 30s, CBE should be a part of your routine health exam, about every 3 years. Since 10-15 percent of breast cancers may be missed by mammograms, physical breast exams are vital.
3. Women should know how their breasts normally feel and report any breast change promptly. Breast Self Exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
4. Talk with your health care provider to figure out your risk for breast cancer. They can discuss with the recommendations, benefits, and limitations of adding Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to your yearly care. Yearly MRI is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15%.
Other steps you can take
1. Maintain ideal body weight and get frequent exercise.
2. Reduce or stop alcohol intake.
3. Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
4. Eat 2 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables that contain Vitamins E, C, and A.
5. Reduce fat in the diet.
6. Increase fiber in the diet.
Health Care Coverage
Today many states have laws that require insurance companies to cover the costs for mammograms and breast exams. If you have not had a mammogram or physical breast exam by the guidelines listed above, or do not know how to do a good breast self exam, be sure to ask your health care provider about these concerns. If you have been told you have fibrocystic breast tissue and have had a breast biopsy, please ask your doctor to explain your report. The best way to fight breast cancer is to have screening tests in order to detect cancer early and to know your own breast tissue.
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #6916.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 01/11/2010
Copyright © 03/25/2009 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4218
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