If you have recently noticed a change in your breasts such as feeling firm, ropy or rubbery to the touch, you may have fibrocystic breasts. These changes may seem alarming, especially if there’s pain or tenderness, but they’re normal. Fibrocystic breast changes have been diagnosed in millions of women worldwide.
Formerly called “fibrocystic breast disease,” this condition is not a disease, even if you still hear this term. It does not raise your risk of breast cancer, either. Still, because fibrocystic breasts can cause some discomfort, you may benefit from a doctor’s visit.
What Are Fibrocystic Breasts?
Fibrocystic breasts happen when there are noncancerous changes to fibrous breast tissue. This thickening of the breast tissue is called fibrosis, which refers to areas of fibrous tissue, the same kind of tissue found in ligaments and scar tissue. Breast cysts are also common. Fibrosis and cysts can often be felt through the skin. This breast condition is most common in women in their childbearing years between 30 and 50.
Not all women with fibrocystic breasts experience symptoms, although many who do find their symptoms improve over time. Symptoms may include:
- Breast lumps
- Changes to the breast before or during menstrual periods
- Nipple discharge
- Pain or tenderness
What Causes Fibrocystic Breasts?
The exact cause of the condition is unknown. Medical experts theorize they’re caused by hormones, most likely estrogen. This is because many women experience fibrocystic breast changes during their menstrual cycle or when they’re premenopausal.
It’s common for women to experience a decrease in their symptoms once their menstrual periods have ended.
How to Get a Diagnosis
Unsure whether your breast condition is due to fibrocystic changes? Getting a diagnosis from your medical provider is the next step.
- Clinical breast exam. A doctor will feel your breasts and the surrounding tissues and collect a symptom history.
- Medical imaging. Mammograms and ultrasounds can provide a more detailed view of the breast’s internal structure including lumps or cysts.
- Fine needle aspiration. This in-office procedure uses a very fine needle to remove fluid from a cyst. This helps with diagnostics and can relieve pain from larger cysts.
When Treatment Is Needed
Most fibrocystic breast changes are not serious and don’t require treatment. Even if you’ve already received a diagnosis, it may be time to see your medical provider if:
- Breast pain becomes unmanageable
- Breast tissue that becomes thick or hard
- Cysts that change in size or firmness
- New lumps or painful areas appear
For most women, at-home treatment is enough to manage symptoms. Some helpful tips for at-home care include:
- Applying warm compresses
- Eating a healthy diet low in sodium and fat
- Taking over-the-counter pain medication when needed
- Wearing a supportive bra at all times
Some women also report that limiting caffeine intake can help, although this has not been verified through research studies.
Talk to a Professional
If you need support managing fibrocystic breast symptoms, schedule an appointment with a women’s health specialist at St. Elizabeth Physicians in Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.