Fibrocystic changes of the breast (formerly called fibrocystic breast disease) include breast pain, cysts, and lumpiness that are not due to cancer.
Most women have some general lumpiness in the breasts, usually in the upper outer part, near the armpit. Many women have this kind of lumpiness, breast pain, breast cysts, or some combination of these symptoms—a condition called fibrocystic changes.
Normally, the levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. Milk glands and ducts enlarge and breasts retain fluid when levels increase, and the breasts return to normal when levels decrease. (These fluctuations partly explain why breasts are swollen and more sensitive during a particular time of each menstrual cycle.) Fibrocystic changes may result from repeated stimulation by these hormones. The following increase the risk of these changes:
Starting to menstruate at an early age
Having a first baby at age 30 or later
The lumpy areas may enlarge, causing a feeling of heaviness, discomfort, tenderness to the touch, or a burning pain. The symptoms tend to subside after menopause.
Typically, a sample of tissue from an area that appears abnormal or different from other areas must be removed and examined under a microscope (biopsy) to rule out cancer. Sometimes the sample can be removed with a needle, but sometimes it must be removed surgically.
Fibrocystic changes may make the breasts appear dense on mammograms and thus may make breast cancer more difficult to detect.