Fibrocystic breasts are composed of tissue that feels lumpy or rope-like in texture. Doctors call this nodular or glandular breast tissue.
It's not at all uncommon to have fibrocystic breasts. More than half of women experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point in their lives. In fact, medical professionals have stopped using the term "fibrocystic breast disease" and now simply refer to "fibrocystic breasts" or "fibrocystic breast changes" because having fibrocystic breasts isn't really a disease. Breast changes categorized as fibrocystic are considered normal.
Although many women with fibrocystic breasts don't have symptoms, some women experience breast pain, tenderness and lumpiness — especially in the upper, outer area of the breasts. Breast symptoms tend to be most bothersome just before menstruation. Simple self-care measures can usually relieve discomfort associated with fibrocystic breasts.
Fibrocystic breast changes lead to the development of fluid-filled round or oval sacs (cysts) and more prominent scar-like (fibrous) tissue, which can make breasts feel tender, lumpy or ropy.
Signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breasts may include:
Fibrocystic breast changes occur most often in women in their 20s to 50s. Rarely do postmenopausal women experience fibrocystic breast changes, unless they're on hormone therapy.
Most fibrocystic breast changes are normal. However, make an appointment with your doctor if:
The exact cause of fibrocystic breast changes isn't known, but experts suspect that reproductive hormones — especially estrogen — play a role.
Fluctuating hormone levels during your menstrual cycle can cause breast discomfort and areas of lumpy breast tissue that feel tender, sore and swollen. Fibrocystic breast changes tend to be more bothersome before your menstrual period, and the pain and lumpiness tends to clear up or lessen once your menstrual period begins.
When examined under a microscope, fibrocystic breast tissue includes distinct components such as:
Each breast contains 15 to 20 lobes of glandular tissue, arranged like the petals of a daisy. The lobes are further divided into smaller lobules that produce milk for breast-feeding. Small tubes (ducts) conduct the milk to a reservoir that lies just beneath your nipple.
Having fibrocystic breasts doesn't increase your risk of breast cancer.
Tests to evaluate your condition may include:
During fine-needle aspiration, a special needle is inserted into a breast lump, and any fluid is removed (aspirated). Ultrasound — a procedure that uses sound waves to create images of your breast on a monitor — might be used to help place the needle.
If you don't experience symptoms, or your symptoms are mild, no treatment is needed for fibrocystic breasts. Severe pain or large, painful cysts associated with fibrocystic breasts may warrant treatment.
Treatment options for breast cysts include:
Examples of treatment options for breast pain include:
You might find relief from symptoms of fibrocystic breasts through one of these home remedies:
Vitamins and dietary supplements may lessen breast pain symptoms and severity for some women. Ask your doctor if one of these might help you — and ask about doses and any possible side effects:
Vitamin E. Early studies showed a possible beneficial effect of vitamin E on breast pain in premenstrual women who experience breast pain that fluctuates during the menstrual cycle. In one study, 200 international units (IU) of vitamin E taken twice daily for two months improved symptoms in women with cyclic breast pain. There was no additional benefit after four months.
For adults older than 18 years, pregnant women and breast-feeding women, the maximum dose of vitamin E is 1,000 milligrams daily (or 1,500 IU).
If you try a supplement for breast pain, stop taking it if you don't notice any improvement in your breast pain after a few months. Try just one supplement at a time so that you can clearly determine which one helps alleviate the pain — or not.
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. In some cases, based on a clinical breast exam or findings on an imaging test, you may be referred to a breast-health specialist.
The initial evaluation focuses on your medical history. Your health care provider will want to discuss your symptoms, their relation to your menstrual cycle and any other relevant information.
To prepare for your appointment, make a list of:
Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions anytime you don't understand something.
Your doctor may ask you questions, such as: