What is fibrocystic breasts?

Fibrocystic Breasts

Fibrocystic breast changes: Overview

Fibrocystic breast changes cause many small lumps to form in your breast. Some areas of your breast may feel thicker or denser than other areas. Your breasts also may feel sore or tender.

You may notice lumps in both breasts around the nipple and in the upper, outer part of the breasts, especially before your menstrual period. The lumps may come and go and change size in just a few days.

Fibrocystic breast changes are normal and are not cancer. Treatment is not usually needed. If you have a hard, grainy lump, unusual pain, or nipple discharge, your doctor may order tests to look for a more serious problem. Talk to your doctor about the need for regular mammograms.

What are the symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes?

If you have fibrocystic breasts, you may notice the symptoms right before your menstrual period. You may find that:

  • Your breasts are swollen.
  • They feel tender or painful. Women often describe this as a dull or aching pain, heaviness, or soreness.
  • Your breasts feel lumpy. Your doctor may call this "generalized breast lumpiness." Lumpy (cystic) areas feel thick. You may have one or more lumps that are always in the same area and that grow and shrink with each menstrual cycle. The lumps move if you push on them.
  • Your symptoms get better by the time your period ends.

Symptoms can be on one or both sides and can occur up toward and under the armpit.

Many women first notice fibrocystic breast changes when they are in their 30s. At this age, your hormone levels start to vary more than before.

How are fibrocystic breast changes treated?

Fibrocystic breast changes are normal and don't need treatment. If breast pain bothers you, there are things you can do at home. Taking an over-the-counter pain medicine can help. If you take hormones or birth control pills, your doctor may have other suggestions that can help with your symptoms.

How are fibrocystic breast changes diagnosed?

If you notice a new breast lump, wait through one menstrual cycle. If it's still there after your period, see your doctor for a breast exam. If you aren't having menstrual periods, see your doctor for a breast exam as soon as you notice a new lump.

To diagnose fibrocystic breast changes, your doctor will do a breast exam and ask when you had your last period. Further exams and tests usually aren't needed. But if your doctor needs more information or you want reassurance, you may have other tests, such as a mammogram or a breast ultrasound.

How can you care for fibrocystic breast changes?

  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Wear a supportive bra, such as a sports bra or jog bra.
  • You may want to limit caffeine. Some women say that cutting back on caffeine reduces breast tenderness.
  • A diet very low in fat (about 15% of daily diet) may reduce breast tenderness. Talk to your doctor about whether you should try a very low-fat diet.

What are fibrocystic breast changes?

Many women have breasts that feel lumpy, thick, and tender, especially right before their periods. These symptoms are called fibrocystic breast changes. They may also be called cyclic breast changes, because they come and go with your menstrual cycle.

Fibrocystic breast changes are normal and harmless. They aren't cancer, and they don't increase your chance of getting breast cancer.

But having fibrocystic breast changes can make it harder to find a lump that could be cancer. This is a special concern if you also have a higher-than-normal risk for breast cancer. So if you or a close family member has had breast cancer or if you have had radiation treatment or a breast biopsy showing atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), talk to your doctor about how often you need a breast checkup.

What causes fibrocystic breast changes?

Experts think that fibrocystic breast changes are linked to the hormone changes that happen during a woman's menstrual cycle. Each month, a woman's body gets ready for a possible pregnancy. It releases hormones that signal the breasts to make milk. The milk (or mammary) glands get bigger, which may make some women's breasts feel lumpy and tender. These symptoms go away after a woman starts her period.

You are more likely to have fibrocystic breasts if your mother or sisters have them.

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