(See also Overview of Breast Disorders Overview of Breast Disorders Breast disorders may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Most are noncancerous and not life threatening. Often, they do not require treatment. In contrast, breast cancer can mean... read more and Breast Lumps Breast Lumps A breast lump (mass) is a thickening or bump that feels different from surrounding breast tissue. A lump may be discovered in a breast incidentally, during a breast self-examination, or during... read more .)
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 Pain Many women experience breast pain. Breast pain may occur in one or both breasts. (See also Overview of Breast Disorders.) Likely causes of breast pain depend on whether the pain is felt in a... read more , breast cysts Breast Cysts Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop in the breast. (See also Overview of Breast Disorders and Breast Lumps.) Breast cysts are common. In some women, many cysts develop frequently... read more , 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 fibrocystic changes, possibly because they involve longer exposure to estrogen:
Starting to menstruate at an early age
Having a first baby at age 30 or later
Never having a baby
Other breast disorders, such as breast infections Breast Infection and Breast Abscess Breast infections are usually caused by bacteria. Rarely, breast infections lead to a breast abscess (a collection of pus in the breast). Mastitis refers to painful inflammation of the breast... read more , can cause fibrocystic changes.
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.
Fibrocystic changes do not increase the risk of breast cancer Breast Cancer Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast become abnormal and divide uncontrollably. Breast cancer usually starts in the glands that produce milk (lobules) or the tubes (ducts) that carry... read more .
Diagnosis of Fibrocystic Breast Changes
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.
Treatment of Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Sometimes removal of a lump
Sometimes drugs to relieve symptoms
If there is only one lump or if one lump appears to be different from other lumps, the lump may be removed.
No specific treatment is available or required for fibrocystic changes, but certain measures may help relieve symptoms:
Wearing a soft, supportive bra, such as an athletic bra
Taking pain relievers such as acetaminophen
Sometimes cysts are drained, but they may recur.
If symptoms are severe, doctors may prescribe drugs, such as danazol (a synthetic male hormone) or tamoxifen (which blocks the effects of estrogen). Because side effects can occur with long-term use, the drugs are usually given for only a short time. Tamoxifen has fewer side effects than danazol.