What is fibrocystic breast disease?

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By MaryAnn de Pietro

Reviewed by Valinda Riggins
Nwadike

Causes | Symptoms | Is it linked
to cancer? | Diagnosis | Treatment | Outlook
Fibrocystic breast disease is
a name for healthy breast tissue that feels lumpy and may be painful at times.
It is not a true disease and is not harmful. The medical community sometimes
refers to the condition as fibrocystic changes.


Fibrocystic breast disease is
very common. Some experts estimate that about 50 percent of women ages 20–50 in
the United States experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point.
In this article, learn about
the symptoms and causes of fibrocystic breast disease, as well as how to get
relief and when to see a doctor.
Causes
Medical experts have yet to
fully understand the cause of fibrocystic breast disease, but there appears to
be a strong association between hormones and breast changes.
Breast tissue responds to
fluctuating levels of hormones, especially estrogen.
Changes in the breasts may
include:

  • an overgrowth of cells that
    line the milk ducts
  • an increase in fibrous tissue
  • the formation of cysts
People who develop fibrocystic
changes may be more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual
cycle. It is common for symptoms to become more bothersome right before or
during a menstrual period.
Fibrocystic breast disease
tends to affect people who are premenopausal and between the ages of 20 and 50.
Some people who take estrogen
replacement therapy after menopause also develop fibrocystic changes.
Symptoms

Symptoms of fibrocystic breast
disease may come and go during the menstrual cycle. Symptoms may also vary from
month to month.
The changes typically occur in
both breasts, but lumps and pain may be worse in one breast than the other.
Although it can vary, the pain
or discomfort is usually located in the undersides of the breasts or in the
upper areas, when the majority of milk glands are.
Typical symptoms include:

  • breasts that feel lumpy or
    have rope-like bumps
  • tenderness
  • pain under the armpit
  • swelling
  • breasts that feel heavy
While lumpy breasts and
discomfort are common in people with fibrocystic breast disease, it is essential
to know when to see a doctor.
If a person develops new lumps
or skin puckering, or if the pain continues to get worse, it is best to speak
to a doctor.
Is it linked to cancer?

According to the American
Cancer Society, having fibrocystic breast disease does not increase a person’s
chances of developing breast cancer. There is no known association between the
two conditions.
Fibrocystic breast disease may
make it difficult to differentiate between a new breast lump and fibrocystic
changes.
Doing monthly breast
self-exams and following a doctor’s recommendations for clinical exams and
mammograms can help catch any harmful changes early.
Diagnosis
A doctor may diagnose
fibrocystic breast disease after a clinical breast exam and a review of
symptoms.
During the exam, the doctor
feels each breast to check for lumps or abnormal areas. Fibrocystic breast
changes tend to feel different from the lumps associated with breast cancer.
Usually, fibrocystic changes
involve lumps that are not attached to the surrounding tissue. The lumps are
typically moveable when a doctor palpates them.
Sometimes, a lump may feel
firmer than usual, or a doctor may have other concerns. Performing a mammogram
or breast ultrasound can help them make a diagnosis.
These imaging tests reveal
more detail about the breast tissue and any cysts, such as whether a cyst is
fluid-filled or solid. If a cyst is found to be both solid and fluid filled, a
biopsy can help rule out cancer.
Treatment
People who experience mild
pain from fibrocystic breast disease may opt for no treatment.
In other instances, the
following treatments can help:
Medication
Doctors may recommend various
medications for fibrocystic breast disease. Over-the-counter pain medications,
such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may decrease discomfort.
Research including 23 studies
and 2,100 participants analyzed the effectiveness of medications for breast
pain. Among the treatments were topical diclofenac gel, a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug. The results indicated that the gel decreased pain.
Heat
Applying a warm compress can
help ease pain in the breasts. Be sure not to make it too hot to avoid burning
the skin.
Hormones
Hormone therapy may balance
levels and help reduce breast pain. A doctor may recommend prescription oral
contraceptives containing synthetic estrogen, progesterone, or both.
One study also looked at the
use of progesterone gel. The study included 50 female participants with
fibrocystic breast disease.
An ultrasound measured the
size and number of cysts before the start of therapy and during the study. The
number and size of cysts decreased during progesterone gel treatment, and
participants who received it reported a reduction in pain.
Supplements
Some supplements may help
decrease pain associated with fibrocystic breast disease.
One study included 94
participants with breast discomfort due to fibrocystic changes. They were divided
into three groups.
One group took 1,000
milligrams (mg) of evening primrose oil twice daily. The second group took 50
mg of vitamin B6 twice daily, and the third group received a placebo. The
participants took the pills for 6 months.
The results indicated that
those who took evening primrose oil or vitamin B6 reported a decrease in pain
severity at 1, 2, and 3 months of treatment.
There was no reported
difference in pain relief between the two supplements, which indicates that
they may be equally effective.
Wear
a supportive bra
Although a supportive bra
cannot treat the fibrosis tissue, it can decrease discomfort. A properly fitted
bra should provide support without being too tight.
People who are unsure about
the best bra size and type may consider seeing a bra-fitting specialist.
Outlook
The outlook for people with
fibrocystic breast disease is good. Some people do not experience bothersome
symptoms, and invasive treatment is usually unnecessary.
While doctors do not know the
exact cause, hormones are a major factor in breast changes.
Trying a combination of home
remedies, such as heating pads, pain medications, and wearing a supportive bra,
can help people get relief.
The symptoms of fibrocystic
breast disease usually ease after menopause.
SOURCE:
MEDICAL NEWS TODAY
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.