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Fibrocystic breast changes

Find out about fibrocystic disease of the breast, which is a non cancerous breast condition.

What is it

Fibrocystic disease is a type of benign breast disease, which means it isn't cancer. 

Many breast lumps are due to fibrocystic changes. The lumps can be caused by a collection of fibrous tissue in an area of the breast. Fibrous tissue is the same tissue that ligaments and scar tissue are made of.

The lumps can also be caused by one or more collections of fluid in an area of the breast. These are called cysts.

Sometimes women have areas of fibrosis and cysts in the same breast.

Who gets it

Many women have fibrocystic changes in their breast at some time in their lives. They are most common in women of childbearing age, but they can affect women of any age. They can happen in different parts of the breast and in both breasts at the same time.

Cysts most often occur in women in their 40s.

Symptoms

Your breasts might feel lumpy. Some women might have a clear or slightly cloudy discharge from the nipple.

Cysts

Cysts tend to be round or oval, movable lumps and can be tender to the touch. The cysts might get bigger and become painful and more noticeable just before your period.

Cysts start out from fluid building up inside the breast glands. They start as tiny, microscopic cysts (microcysts) that are too small to feel. They can only be seen when breast tissue is looked at under a microscope. Larger cysts are called macrocysts. These are easy to feel and can be up to 1 or 2 inches across. As the cysts grow the breast tissue around them can stretch and be tender or painful.

Fibrosis

Areas of fibrosis can feel rubbery, firm, or hard to the touch.

Diagnosing fibrocystic disease

Usually, fibrocystic changes are diagnosed when women go to their doctor with symptoms, such as breast lumps, swelling, and tenderness or pain.

You might have an ultrasound, which usually can clearly show whether the lump is a cyst. If the ultrasound isn’t clear, your doctor or nurse might need to take a small sample of cells called a biopsy.

Treatment for fibrocystic disease

You might not need any treatment for fibrocystic disease. But you might have appointments every now and again with a doctor or nurse to check the lumps. Cysts can go away on their own after a while.

If it isn't clear what the lump is or if it is causing soreness or pain, your doctor or nurse might put a thin needle into it to drain fluid. This can get rid of a cyst and also get rid of the soreness.

If you have mild soreness due to fibrosis, you might find that it helps to:

  • wear well-fitted, supportive bras
  • apply gentle heat to the area
  • take mild painkillers

Some women have said that their breast symptoms improve if they avoid caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and some soft drinks. There is no scientific evidence that caffeine or other stimulants cause the symptoms, but it might be worth trying.

Does fibrocystic disease affect the risk of breast cancer

Fibrocystic changes in the breast don't increase the risk of breast cancer.

Last reviewed: 
12 Aug 2014
  • ABC of Breast Diseases (fourth edition)
    Michael Dixon
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

  • Cancer principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    DeVita and others
    Wolters Kluwer, 2012

  • Cystic breast lesions: sonographic findings and clinical management
    P Rinaldi and others
    Journal of Ultrasound in Med, 2010 Nov;29(11): pages 1617-26

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