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Fibrocystic breast changes

Fibrocystic breast changes are not cancer. Doctors sometimes call fibrocystic breast changes fibrocystic breast disease. 

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.

Fibrocystic breast changes can happen in different parts of the breast and in both breasts at the same time.

Do fibrocystic breast changes affect the risk of breast cancer?

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

Who gets fibrocystic changes?

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. 

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. 

You might have breast pain.

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. You might find any pain or tenderness changes with your menstrual cycle.

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 breast changes

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

If you have breast symptoms, your GP might refer you to a breast clinic. This might be a one-stop clinic where you have several tests during one visit (a triple assessment). The tests can diagnose breast cancer and other breast conditions. You might have an examination of your breast and an ultrasound scan and sometimes a breast x-ray (mammogram). If these tests show an abnormal area, a doctor or nurse takes a sample of tissue (a biopsy).

Treatment for fibrocystic breast changes

You might not need any treatment for fibrocystic changes.

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 causes the symptoms, but it might be worth trying.

Talk to your GP about other possible treatments if these suggestions don’t help. Other treatments might include:

  • other painkillers
  • hormonal therapy
Last reviewed: 
04 Mar 2020
Next review due: 
04 Mar 2023
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    Michael Dixon
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

  • Fibrocystic breasts

    BMJ Best Practice, May 2018

  • Potential Mechanisms of Diet Therapy for Fibrocystic Breast Conditions Show Inadequate Evidence of Effectiveness

    NK Horner and JW Lampe

    Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2000. Volume 100, Issue 11

  • Benign Breast Disease in Women

    A Stachs and others

    Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 2019. Volume 116

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