Health & Wellness

The Facts on Fibrocystic Breast Changes

By MSF Staff and reviewed by the MSF Medical Advisory Board
Taking preventative measures to protect your overall health can sometimes be difficult to remember when you have a chronic illness, but every woman should perform monthly breast exams. When you do, it is possible your breasts may feel lumpy, bumpy, or thick. While any change in your breasts should be discussed with your doctor, for many women, uneven breast texture is due to fibrocystic changes. The condition affects many women at some point in their lives, particularly those between the ages of 30 and 50.
What are Fibrocystic Breast Changes?
Your doctor might use a variety of terms to describe fibrocystic breast changes, such as fibrocystic breasts, cystic breasts, and benign breast disease. Several of those terms no longer are used because doctors now understand that fibrocystic breast changes aren’t a disease but are normal for many women. 
These noncancerous changes in breast tissue can involve pain and variances in consistency. Repeated hormonal cycles and the accumulation of fluid and cells in the breast are thought to be the most common cause of “lumpy breasts.”
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes differ from person to person. Some women may only experience pain before their periods, others may notice a constant discomfort that may occur throughout both breasts. 
The most common complaints include: breast discomfort or tenderness, a dull or heavy pain, a dense or “lumpy” consistency, and nipple sensations, such as itching. These symptoms may get worse before your period starts and subside once your period ends. You might detect a lump that is tender to the touch or easily movable during a monthly breast exam. Over time the lump or lumps may get larger or smaller, and they may become less noticeable after menopause. Finding a lump can be alarming. Remember it could be a benign change, but you should immediately consult your doctor. 
What treatments are available?
Fibrocystic breast changes are manageable with monthly breast exams and yearly doctor evaluations. Dense breast tissue can make it more difficult to detect something abnormal, so it is important to keep track of your symptoms and contact your doctor immediately if you notice significant changes. 
Steps also can be taken to alleviate your symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as Tylenol or Advil, may help with pain. Simple measures like wearing a supportive, well-fitted bra may offer relief, and taking herbs and vitamins such as primrose oil and vitamin E have shown some benefits in clinical studies. Consult with your doctor before starting any treatment. While more research needs to be done, some researchers also believe that cutting your caffeine intake by eliminating coffee, tea, soda and chocolate can be beneficial. 
Tips for an Accessible Breast Exam
“My hands shake so much – I never thought I would be able to examine my own breasts.”
That’s what one woman thought before she found Breast Health Access for Women with Disabilities. The Berkley, Calif. organization helps women in its area take charge of their breast health through free breast exams and lessons on accessible techniques for self-exam.
They advise:
• If you have difficulty using or feeling with the finger pads of one or both hands, try using your thumb, the palm of your hand or the back of your fingers.
• If it is difficult for you to control one or both of your hands because of shaking, try using the other hand to stabilize the hand examining the breast.
Find these and other tips for making breast exams accessible at:
(Last reviewed 7/2009)