Fibrocystic breasts are composed of nodular or glandular breast tissue that feels lumpy or rope-like in texture. The condition is referred to as fibrocystic breasts because it is not a disease.
Fibrocystic breasts are fairly common. More than half of women experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point in life.
Breast changes identified as fibrocystic breasts are normal; however they can still cause breast pain, tenderness and lumpiness, especially in the upper, outer area of the breasts. The symptoms tend to become more bothersome prior to menstruation. Self-care measures are usually enough to relieve the discomfort from fibrocystic breasts.
It is important to have regular checkups and monitoring of any existing lumps or new areas of lumps or thickening that persists after menstruating.
Symptoms of fibrocystic breasts include:
- Breast lumps or areas of thickening that tend to blend into the surrounding breast tissue
- Generalized breast pain or tenderness
- Fluctuating size of breast lumps
- Green or dark brown nonbloody nipple discharge that tends to leak without pressure or squeezing
- Changes that occur in both breasts
- Monthly increase in breast pain or lumpiness from midcycle (ovulation) to just before the period
Fibrocystic breast changes occur most often in women between their 20s and 50s. It is rare for fibrocystic breast changes to occur after menopause due to reduced hormone levels.
The exact cause of fibrocystic breast changes is unclear, but experts believe it is associated with reproductive hormones, especially estrogen.
The discomfort associated with fibrocystic breast changes may result from the fluctuating hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. These fluctuations may cause the breasts to have areas of lumpy thickening that feel tender, sore and swollen. These fibrocystic changes usually feel the worst before the menstrual period and the pain and lumpiness tends to clear once the menstrual period begins.
Fibrocystic breast tissue includes the following components:
- Fluid-filled round or oval sacs (cysts)
- A prominence of scar-like fibrous tissue (fibrosis)
- Overgrowth of cells (hyperplasia) lining the milk ducts or milk-producing tissues (lobules) of the breast
- Enlarged breast lobules (adenosis)
Fibrocystic breast changes do not increase the risk of breast cancer, unless the breast changes are associated with atypical hyperplasia (atypia), the abnormal appearance and overgrowth of cells lining breast lobules and ducts.