UT University Health Services

Fibrocystic Breast Changes

What are fibrocystic breast changes?

Fibrocystic breast changes are the most common cause of breast tenderness and breast lumps. Fibrocystic breast lumps are cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs surrounded by fibrous tissue. These cysts are not caused by cancer. Fibroadenomas, another common cause of breast lumps, are solid lumps of fibrous tissue. They are not caused by cancer either.

How does it occur?

The cause of fibrocystic breast changes is not known. Estrogen and other hormones produced by the ovaries may play a role.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are tenderness, enlargement, and lumpiness in the breast. These changes usually happen in both breasts 7 to 10 days before your menstrual period. They begin to go away when your period starts and are usually gone by the time your period ends.

How is it diagnosed?

Usually, your healthcare provider can diagnose fibrocystic changes with a physical exam. To be sure of the diagnosis, your provider may recommend that you get a mammogram, a breast ultrasound, or aspiration of the cyst (removal of fluid with a tiny needle). Or your provider may ask that you simply return for another exam in 2 to 6 weeks, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle.

How is it treated?

There is no accepted medical treatment for getting rid of the breast changes, but there are a number of things you can do to try to relieve discomfort.

  • Nonprescription drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin may be helpful for pain.
  • Wear a well-fitting bra for support, especially when you are physically active.
  • Warm soaks or ice packs may help to reduce or prevent symptoms.
  • Drink less coffee, tea, and soda containing caffeine, which may aggravate the cysts. Also try avoiding chocolate.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about supplements such as evening primrose oil, available at health food stores, and vitamins such as vitamin A, B complex, and vitamin E may help reduce symptoms.
  • If your symptoms are severe, you may want to discuss with your provider the pros and cons of prescription drugs such as hormones.

Some cysts can be treated in the provider's office by aspiration. In this procedure, after local anesthesia, fluid in the lump is removed with a tiny needle attached to a syringe. If a lump does not disappear completely after aspiration, it should be looked at again by your provider.

How long will the effects last?

The lumps may get larger or smaller over time. They may go away or become less noticeable after menopause. There is no known cure for these breast changes, but they are not harmful and rarely develop into breast cancer.

How can I take care of myself?

Always do monthly breast self-exams after your menstrual period. If you no longer have periods, examine your breasts at the same time each month, for example, on the first day of every month. Also have a yearly exam by your healthcare provider and get regular screening mammograms as advised by your provider.

Because lumps can be a symptom of either fibrocystic breast changes or cancer, it is important to see your healthcare provider when:

  • You haven't had a breast exam in over 1 year.
  • New lumps appear.
  • An existing lump changes in some way.
  • Other breast symptoms develop, such as skin color changes, dimpling of the skin, or discharge from the nipple.

How can I prevent fibrocystic breast changes?

To try to help prevent fibrocystic breast changes, some providers advise avoiding food and beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate. However, it is not clear that these foods have a significant impact on symptoms.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

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