What is Fibrocystic Breast Disease?
Finding a lump on your breast does not necessarily mean breast cancer – while it is a cause for concern, it is not always life threatening. Fibrocystic breast disease is a common but benign (non-cancerous) condition that may affect one or both breasts. Women experience painful, lumpy, tender breasts that often worsen before their menstrual cycle.
Fibrocystic breast lumps may have a thick, irregular feel to them or be smooth, round and not attached to other breast tissue. They feel tender when touched, and increase or decrease in size during the menstrual cycle. These lumps may be found in anywhere in the breasts, but occur mostly in the upper part near the armpit region.
This condition is common amongst women between the ages of 30 and 50, but women younger than 30 years may also be affected. Most women only encounter mild symptoms, while others have severe pain. Symptoms generally cease after menopause but sometimes fibrocystic breast condition continues after menopause.
Symptoms and signs
The common symptoms and signs of fibrocystic breast disease include:
- Pain and tenderness that extends to the underarm
- Feeling of fullness
- Cysts (fluid-filled cysts)
- Nipple discharge that may be a green-brownish color
What Causes Fibrocystic Breast Disease?
Fibrocystic breast disease is linked to hormonal changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle. During each menstrual cycle, hormonal stimulation causes the milk glands of the breasts to enlarge. Breasts may feel swollen, lumpy, painful or tender before or during menstruation. While some women experience mild breast swelling others may experience more severe symptoms. Fibrocystic breasts usually stop after menopause.
Diagnosing Fibrocystic Breast Disease
The diagnosis of fibrocystic breast disease is usually based on symptoms indicating tenderness, lumpiness or pain, as well as a physical examination. Women usually detect fibrocystic breasts first, mostly during their menstrual cycle. Your health practitioner will perform a clinical breast exam and/or imaging exams such as an ultrasound or mammogram.
An additional mammography or ultrasound may be performed a few weeks later, followed by a biopsy or fine needle aspiration to establish the presence of breast cancer. Ask your physician to show you how to perform a breast exam correctly.
Help for Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Fibrocystic breast disease is usually treated with self-care. Health practitioners recommend that women wear a bra with extra support (athletic or sports bra), especially when breasts are tender during the menstrual cycle. Reducing an intake of caffeine, tea, soft drinks and chocolate may help reduce breast discomfort, but studies linking breast pain and caffeine have yet to be confirmed.
Low-dose birth control pills may also help to ease to breast soreness and swelling. Over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or acetaminophen can also relieve sore breasts. If breast pain is severe, prescription medication may be administered. Diuretics may be used to provide symptomatic relief as they help to promote the excretion of excess fluid from the body in the form of urine.
It is vital that women have regular breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and screening mammography. Because of the normal lumpiness and tenderness associated with fibrocystic breasts, this condition can sometimes camouflage the appearance of breast cancer on a mammogram.
Natural and holistic therapies such as herbal remedies have proven to be highly successful in providing symptomatic relief for fibrocystic breast condition. Herbal remedies are safe and gentle on the body’s system, and encourages overall health and wellbeing. One of the most powerful Chinese tonic herbs, Dong Quai (Angelica Sinesis) helps to promote hormonal harmony throughout the menstrual cycle and maintain estrogen and progesterone within normal levels.
More Information on Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Tips to help cope with fibrocystic breast disease
There are several things that you can do to reduce the discomfort of fibrocystic breast disease and these include:
- Wear a bra that provides extra support during the day and at night, particularly when breasts are most tender
- Practice monthly breast self-exams – women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have a clinical breast exam every three years while women over 40 years should annual screening mammograms and yearly breast exams
- Eat a low-fat diet that contains fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains
- Increase your intake of magnesium at two weeks before your menstrual cycle to reduce breast pain and swelling
- Apply a heat pack to the breasts to relieve pain