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Fibrocystic breast changes

Fibrocystic breast changes are a very common benign breast condition characterized by thickening, lumps and cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the breast tissues. It affects more than 50% of women during their lifetime. It is more commonly found in women between 30 and 50 years of age.

Fibrocystic breast changes are also called fibrocystic breast disease. This name is misleading because it is not a disease and women who have fibrocystic breast changes do not have “abnormal” breasts.

For most women, fibrocystic breast changes do not increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

If a woman with fibrocystic breast changes has a family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter), she is at a slightly greater risk of developing breast cancer.

Risk factors

Fibrocystic breast changes are thought to be related to the hormoneshormonesA substance that regulates specific body functions, such as metabolism, growth and reproduction. that control a woman’s menstrual cycle (estrogenestrogenA female sex hormone that causes the female sex characteristics to develop (such as breasts) and is necessary for reproduction. in particular).

Signs and symptoms

Fibrocystic changes usually affect both breasts. Symptoms can vary with the menstrual cycle, often becoming worse before or during a menstrual period. The signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes may include:

  • lumps or lumpy areas in the breasts, usually in the upper outer part of the breast
    • Lumps are often round and moveable.
    • Sometimes lumps are solid or “fibrous” (due to scarring) or may be filled with fluid (cysts).
  • breast pain (mastalgia) or tenderness
  • swelling or a feeling of heaviness in the breasts
  • nipple discharge

Women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT)hormone replacement therapy (HRT)Treatment that replaces female sex hormones ( estrogen, progesterone or both) when they are no longer produced by the ovaries. may have more symptoms. Women taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills) may have fewer symptoms.

The symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes often go away after a woman reaches menopause.


If the signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes are present, or if the doctor suspects fibrocystic breast changes, tests will be done to make a diagnosis. Tests may include:


Supportive therapy treats the symptoms caused by fibrocystic breast changes, but it does not treat the underlying cause of the breast condition. Supportive care options for fibrocystic breast changes may include:

  • wearing a fitted, supportive bra
  • over-the-counter pain medicines
    • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
    • acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    • diclofenac cream (Voltaren)
  • fine needle aspiration to relieve pain from a breast cyst
  • adding ground flaxseed to the diet
    • One small study suggested that eating 25 g daily may help with breast pain.

If supportive care measures do not reduce the symptoms, or if the symptoms are severe, other treatment options may be offered.

  • oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • surgery – sometimes done to remove a lump
  • drug treatment – rarely offered for fibrocystic breast changes due to concerns about side effects
    • danazol (Cyclomen, Danocrine) – decreases the production of estrogen
    • tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Tamofen) – blocks the effects of estrogen

While research has not shown that the following treatments are effective, some women may chose to:

  • make changes to their diet
    • avoid caffeine and other stimulants (coffee, chocolate, tea, soft drinks)
    • reduce salt
    • limit saturated fats
  • use evening primrose oil or vitamin E


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