Breast Disease Fibrocystic

Fibrocystic breast disease is not really a disease at all. It’s so common, in fact, that many doctors consider it as part of the normal range of female breast composition. As a result, many doctors now use the terms “fibrocystic breasts” or “fibrocystic breast changes” to describe the condition.

What is Fibrocystic Breast Disease?

Fibrocystic Breast DiseaseFibrocystic breast disease involves unusually dense, benign breast tissue containing:

  • A higher-than-average amount of fibrous tissue (the same type of tissue found in ligaments and scar tissue)
  • An excess of cells around the milk ducts or lobules (hyperplasia)
  • Cysts that develop when fibrocystic tissue blocks milk ducts
  • Enlarged breast lobules (adenosis).

Dense areas of fibrocystic tissue may give breasts a lumpy, irregular consistency.

What Causes Fibrocystic Breast Disease?

The exact cause of fibrocystic breast disease is unknown, but researchers believe it may be linked to levels of estrogen and other reproductive hormones, as fibrocystic breasts are more common in women of reproductive age. In addition, discomfort caused by fibrocystic breast disease can worsen during menstruation. Women taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy may also notice fibrocystic breast changes. The condition is rare in postmenopausal women.

Fibrocystic Breast Disease Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of fibrocystic breast disease is the presence of dense tissue, which causes “lumpiness” in the breasts. Breasts may have a “cobblestone” texture, or feel as if tiny beads are scattered throughout the breast tissue. A fibrocystic breast lump typically has smooth borders and feels slightly rubbery when manipulated. Unlike breast cancer, fibrocystic breast disease tends to affect both breasts simultaneously. Other symptoms may include:

  • A full, heavy sensation in the breasts
  • Breast pain and discomfort
  • Itchiness or other unusual nipple sensations
  • Non-bloody nipple discharge
  • Premenstrual breast tenderness, swelling and pain
  • Improved symptoms after the menstrual period ends.

How is Fibrocystic Breast Disease Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of fibrocystic breasts usually begins with a physical examination and a mammogram. However, mammography results may be difficult to interpret due to the density of fibrocystic breast lumps and tissue. A biopsy may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis.

Fibrocystic Breast Disease Treatment

Treatment options for fibrocystic breast disease are limited. Large cysts can be drained using fine needle aspiration, but fluid often returns in time, along with symptoms of pain and discomfort. Some women report symptom relief by reducing their intake of fatty foods and caffeine, but evidence is largely anecdotal. Moist, hot compresses applied to the breasts provide some relief when symptoms flare up. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove a persistent breast lump or cyst that continues to reappear even after multiple aspirations.

Can Fibrocystic Breast Disease Become Breast Cancer?

Fibrocystic breast disease does not increase the risk of developing breast cancer, unless the overgrowth of cells around the milk ducts or lobules is abnormal. This condition, known as “atypical hyperplasia” or “atypia,” is associated with a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer.

It’s also possible that the thick fibrous tissue and breast lumps associated with fibrocystic breast disease can interfere with breast cancer screening, making it difficult to detect the early development of a breast cancer.

Resources

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2000). Fibrocystic breast changes. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp138.cfm

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Fibrocystic breasts. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibrocystic-breasts/DS01070

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2006). Fibrocystic breast disease — Overview. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000912.htm

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2009). Fibrocystic breast disease. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000912.htm