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Fibrocystic Breast Disease: Treatment and Prevention

Fibrocystic breast disease is a commonly occurring, though not life-threatening, medical condition. Below, Flo outlines the type of fibrocystic breast symptoms you should look out for, the likelihood of developing them, and methods for treatment.

Overview of fibrocystic breast disease

Roughly half of all women will be affected by fibrocystic breast disease in their lifetime. As such, fibrocystic breast changes are perfectly normal and might entail fluid-filled breast cysts or thickened breast tissue (i.e., fibrosis). This tissue is usually firm or rubbery to the touch. You’ll probably be able to feel both through your skin. 

Luckily, fibrocystic breast changes don’t necessarily warrant medical attention. Note, however, that while they do not increase your chances of getting breast cancer, they may make abnormal lumps harder to detect.

Fibrocystic breast symptoms

Fibrocystic changes can produce a variety of uncomfortable fibrocystic breast symptoms. You may notice lumps in your breasts, pain, and nipple discharge, among others. Non-bloody discharge (green or dark brown) sometimes mimics the signs of a possible breast infection.

The lumps or thickened areas which characterize fibrocystic breast tissue might alter slightly during your menstrual cycle. Pain and tenderness that worsens before your period due to hormonal changes could also indicate fibrocystic breast disease.

That’s why it’s important to practice breast self-awareness and to understand how your breasts normally look and feel. Perform monthly self-exams, right after your period ends, to guarantee you’ll spot new lumps, skin differences, etc. And always remember to consult your doctor when something doesn’t feel right.

Diagnosis of fibrocystic breast disease

If you observe any fibrocystic breast symptoms, schedule a visit with your doctor who can conduct a breast exam to diagnose fibrocystic breast changes. They’ll carefully examine your breasts, as well as the nearby lymph nodes. If these breast changes appear harmless, further testing will not be needed. 

Otherwise, your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as a mammogram (to X-ray fibrocystic breast tissue) or breast ultrasound. Both tests provide detailed images of the area for closer evaluation. 

Lastly, if imaging results are still inconclusive, they’ll perhaps opt for a biopsy. A small sample of tissue is extracted with a needle and sent to the lab. Biopsies determine whether a sample is cancerous or noncancerous. Even if it turns out to be benign, your doctor will suggest ongoing monitoring. This means that for the next couple of years, you’ll need to repeat the breast exam and imaging tests every six months. 

Causes of fibrocystic breasts

The underlying reasons behind fibrocystic breast changes have yet to be determined. However, the changing hormone levels associated with your menstrual cycle, namely estrogen, are thought to play a role. 

Estrogen levels are low on the first day of your period, then start to rise a few days later. They peak shortly before ovulation, which happens on day 14 of a typical 28-day menstrual cycle. If you do not become pregnant, your estrogen drops again around day 24, and your next period arrives a few days later. 

If you’re experiencing fibrocystic breast changes, you may notice that your fibrocystic breast symptoms tend to worsen right before menstruation. 

Likelihood of developing fibrocystic breast disease

Fibrocystic breast changes present most often in women between the ages of 20 and 50. Breast lesions, in particular, predominantly affect premenopausal women. On the other hand, post-menopausal women who aren’t receiving hormone replacement therapy seem much less prone to it.

Note that certain substances, like alcohol and caffeine, also potentially increase your chances of having fibrocystic breast disease. Some experts point to alcohol consumption (between the ages of 18 and 22), as well as heavy caffeine intake, as contributing factors. Fortunately, for coffee lovers, research on the latter isn’t conclusive.

Treatment of fibrocystic breast disease

If you’ve been diagnosed with fibrocystic breast changes, you may not need any treatment. Your doctor might recommend self-care measures or medications to manage your discomfort.  

Consider addressing fibrocystic breast symptoms by wearing a more supportive bra, eating a low-fat, caffeine-free diet, and using warm or cool compresses. Or your doctor may advise you to try over-the-counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, or prescription drugs like oral contraceptives.

Alternative remedies might include breast cyst aspiration ‒ a procedure in which fluid is drawn out of your cyst with a small needle. If the cysts keep returning, though, then surgical removal of fibrocystic breast tissue may be recommended.

Prevention of fibrocystic breasts

Hoping to tackle fibrocystic breast symptoms before they even appear? When it comes to fibrocystic breast disease, prevention and treatment are practically one and the same. 

You can learn a few helpful self-care measures if you’re concerned about developing fibrocystic breasts. Try switching to a cotton sports bra or adopting a fibrocystic breast disease diet, which cuts out salt and fat. Furthermore, think about limiting your consumption of caffeine, chocolate, and soda.

Takeaway

Fibrocystic breast disease is an extremely common condition and shouldn’t be a major cause for concern. Symptoms can be managed fairly easily under the guidance of a medical professional. 

To help prevent the development of fibrocystic breast symptoms, try to familiarize yourself with your breasts through monthly self-exams. If you spot anything out of the ordinary, consult your doctor right away to make sure it’s not cancerous. In the event that it is, rest assured, there are many highly effective breast cancer treatment options.

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