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Fibrocystic breast disease

Fibrocystic breast disease (FBD) is a term given to a very common group of benign conditions affecting the breast in younger women. Women with fibrocystic breasts usually have soft, moveable lumps in their breasts which may become very tender around the time of their period. After a woman has her period, the symptoms go away until just before the next menstrual period. Because this is a rather common condition about 1 in 5 women, and because it is benign, the term "disease" is not really appropriate. Many medical professionals use different names to refer to this same condition. Other terms which you may hear include: fibrocystic breasts, fibrous breast tissue, cystic breasts, or dense breast tissue.

Fibrocystic changes are the most common cause of breast lumps in women ages 30 to 50. Although fibrocystic changes may also be referred to as fibrocystic disease, this is not a disease, but a condition. It can be known as cystic disease, chronic cystic mastitis or mammary dysplasia. This condition is not cancerous. At least 60% of the women in their reproductive years have "lumpy" breasts as a result of these non-cancerous conditions. This is a very concise and informative page about fibrocystic breasts.

The cause of fibrocystic changes is related to the way breast tissue responds to monthly changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone, female hormones produced by the ovaries during a woman's reproductive years. Each month during one's menstrual cycle, the breast tissue alternately swells and returns to normal. Hormonal stimulation of the breast tissue causes the milk glands and ducts to enlarge, and the breasts to retain water. The breasts frequently feel swollen, painful, tender, and lumpy at this time. After menstruation, swelling in the breast usually decreases, and the breasts feel less tender and lumpy. That's why the best time to examine the breast is 7-10 days after the start of the menstrual period, when the breast tissue is at its most normal state.

Since the exact causes are not known prevention suggestions are based on changing ones diet and to avoid caffeine and stopping smoking if the woman does smoke or avoiding secondary smoke if she does not directly smoke. To avoid overlooking possible cancer -- without ending up in the doctor's office every month -- you should become familiar with what's going on in your breasts via regular self-examinations. Any suspicious lump should always be checked by your doctor. In some cases a needle aspiration, that is where a needle is inserted into the middle of the lump to see whether it's a mass of tissue or a fluid-filled cyst, may be indicated. Occasionally, your doctor may do a full biopsy, surgically removing the lump to check for possible cancer.

Monthly breast self-examinations to check breasts for lumps and become fully aware of the specific patter of lumps and tender areas is helpful once the diagnosis has been made. These examinations are best done a few days after the onset of menstruation. It is essential to report any changes from your normal pattern to your doctor immediately. Anytime that you find a lump or notice any changes in your breasts it is important to make an appointment with the clinic or your private physician for an examination. You may be asked to come back after a certain length of time (usually after your next period) for another exam. This allows the clinician to see if swelling and tenderness decrease after your period.

While there is no cure for fibrocystic breasts at this time, there are some things you can do to help relieve the symptoms. There is a lot of evidence that fibrocystic breast disease is made worse by certain foods or drinks in your diet. Primarily, if you eliminate caffeine from your diet, you are likely to notice a significant decrease in your symptoms. The list at the bottom of this page shows the caffeine content of certain beverages. In addition, chocolate and nicotine (cigarette smoking) are believed to also increase a woman's symptoms. Many women get relief of symptoms by following a low salt diet to decrease water retention. If necessary, during times of your cycle when your breasts are the most tender, you may want to take aspirin or Tylenol (as long as you do not have allergies to these medications) for the pain.

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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005