Women with fibrocystic breasts have breast tissue that is lumpy or fibrous, with symptoms often changing depending on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle. Women diagnosed with fibrocystic breasts (also referred to as fibrocystic breast condition or fibrocystic "changes") should not worry that this diagnosis puts them at an increased risk for breast cancer or that this is a disease. This is a benign and very common condition affecting more than 50 percent of women, particularly those of perimenopausal age-between 30 and 50 years old.
About half of all women with lumpy or fibrocystic breasts will experience symptoms. Hormonal changes in the body, especially during the menstrual cycle, can lead to the development of cysts, or benign lumps, and breast pain. Mastalgia or mastodynia are other names for the breast pain and tenderness some women with fibrocystic breasts experience. Although the pain is often cyclical, some women have pain that does not occur in conjunction with the menstrual cycle.
Currently there is no scientific evidence regarding what causes fibrocystic breast condition. A tendency for members of the same family to experience similar symptoms suggests a possible genetic predisposition. Some studies have also suggested that symptomatic women with tenderness and breast pain may have increased sensitivity to high levels of saturated fats and/or substances such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Stress is also thought to play a role; although stress does not cause fibrocystic breast condition, increased stress may exacerbate symptoms for some women by affecting hormone levels.
Fibrocystic breast tissue is not dangerous, but many women come to the Comprehensive Breast Health Center worrying that their lumpy breasts and/or breast pain are signs of breast cancer. At your appointment, you will receive a comprehensive clinical breast exam that includes detailed questions about your symptoms. Most women will also be sent for a mammogram and, in some cases, an ultrasound to further assess and characterize any difficult-to-define lumps.
Fibrocystic breast condition is considered a normal variation of otherwise healthy breasts and does not require treatment. However, women with mastalgia who experience moderate to severe breast pain may benefit from one or a combination of treatments.
Learn more about the patient-centered, high-quality approach to breast cancer care provided to patients diagnosed and treated at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.