What is fibrocystic breast disease?

Fibrocystic breast disease is a name sometimes used to describe natural breast tissue that feels lumpy. However, this normal breast texture isn’t a disease. Fibrous tissue and fluid-filled breast cysts can cause lumpy breasts, but they aren’t breast cancer and aren’t usually a concern.

As many as half of all women have fibrocystic breasts. This type of breast tissue can be cyclical, which means you may notice an increase in lumpiness the week before your period. Some people have no other symptoms, while others may have breast pain or tenderness accompanying their cycle.

Fibrocystic breast disease symptoms

The main symptom of fibrocystic breasts is a lumpy feeling in both breasts. Some people describe it as having a rope-like texture. These lumpy cysts may get bigger or smaller as you go through your monthly cycle. A breast lump caused by fibrocystic breast symptoms usually moves around when you push on it.

Along with lumpy breasts, you may have other symptoms, especially before your period, such as:

  • Breast pain, tenderness or discomfort
  • A feeling of fullness or swelling in the breasts
  • Discomfort that extends to the outer part of the breasts or under the arms

Causes and risk factors of lumpy breasts

Fibrocystic breast changes are common, but all the causes aren’t fully understood. There appears to be a connection between lumpy breasts and hormonal changes. Most people with fibrocystic breast changes are in their 30s and 40s, and it’s less common after menopause. Other potential causes of lumpy breasts include genetic factors and lifestyle factors.

You may be more likely to have lumpy breasts due to:

  • Factors that affect your natural hormones, such as starting your period at an early age, having your first pregnancy after 30 or never being pregnant
  • Genetics or a family history of benign breast conditions
  • Lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol

Diagnosing fibrocystic breast changes

Your healthcare provider may be able to diagnose fibrocystic breast changes with a routine breast exam. However, if you have areas of concern, there are additional options to give your doctor more information about lumpy breast pain or changes to your breast tissue. Symptoms such as a firm breast lump or changes that don’t feel like normal fibrocystic breast tissue should be evaluated by your doctor to decide if you need a mammogram, ultrasound or other testing. Here's what to expect if your doctor recommends one of these additional tests.

  • Breast exam

    You’ll likely need a clinical breast exam to diagnose fibrocystic changes. During a clinical breast exam, your doctor will examine your breasts, areas under your arms and neck. Using this exam, your doctor can guide your next steps for care—whether that’s a diagnosis of normal lumpy breasts or a need for more testing.

  • Mammography and ultrasound

    If you have a lump that needs a closer look, your doctor will refer you for a diagnostic mammogram or a breast ultrasound. A mammogram takes X-ray images of the breast to give your doctor more details about a specific area of concern. An ultrasound uses sound waves to provide images of your breast and may be helpful if you have dense breast tissue. You may only have one of these imaging tests or both.

  • Biopsy

    If your imaging tests show an area of concern, then a biopsy is an option. A breast biopsy takes a tissue sample from a suspicious breast area to help diagnose your condition. Different types of biopsies exist, such as mammogram-guided or ultrasound-guided biopsy.

Fibrocystic breast disease treatments
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Because most fibrocystic breast changes are expected, simple lifestyle changes or home remedies will help you feel better. But when fibrocystic changes include bothersome pain or severe symptoms, you should consider talking with your doctor about additional care. You have options for fibrocystic breast tissue treatments to help reduce ongoing pain, discomfort or cysts that won’t resolve. These treatment options typically include lifestyle and home remedies, medications and supplements, and very rarely, surgery.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Many people with lumpy breast pain find that they only need at-home care during the week before their period. Use these options to care for mild lumpy breast pain at home:

  • Choose a well-fitting, supportive bra.
  • Use ice packs or a warm compress to ease cyclical discomfort.
  • Try reducing your caffeine, sodium or saturated fat intake to see if you notice an improvement in your symptoms.
Medications and supplements

Both over-the-counter medications and prescription medications can help treat fibrocystic breast changes. Try over-the-counter pain relievers, including ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Others report that taking an essential fatty acid supplement, evening primrose oil or vitamin E makes a difference in their discomfort. Consult with your doctor to determine the right medications or supplements for you.

If these don’t help, talk to your doctor about whether birth control pills could help reduce your symptoms by stabilizing hormones during your cycle.   

Surgery

Very rarely, surgery is used as a treatment for fibrocystic breast changes. If you have a large cystic lump that doesn’t respond to other treatments, surgery to remove the lump, called a breast excision, is an option. This type of surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure. Your doctor can walk you through what to expect if surgery is recommended.

Our breast imaging centers near you

We offer several locations for your care, including numerous clinics and centers in North and Central Texas specializing in breast health conditions like fibrocystic changes. Find an imaging center near you.

Preguntas frecuentes

  • What foods should I avoid with fibrocystic breast disease?

    You may consider avoiding foods and drinks that contain caffeine, foods high in sodium, foods high in fat and alcohol. Some people find it helpful to make dietary changes to reduce the symptoms of fibrocystic breasts. These changes don’t work for everyone, but try the following steps to see if they benefit you:

    • Reduce or eliminate foods and drinks that contain caffeine, including coffee, tea, chocolate and sodas
    • Try a low-sodium diet to help reduce fluid retention
    • Focus on a low-fat diet, especially cutting saturated fats that are found in fatty meats or high-fat dairy
    • Reduce or eliminate your alcohol consumption
  • Does fibrocystic breast disease go away?

    Yes, the symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease sometimes go away on their own, or you may have fewer symptoms as you age. Because lumpy breasts and pain are often linked to your menstrual cycle, these symptoms may resolve after menopause.

  • Can fibrocystic breasts turn into cancer?

    No, fibrocystic breasts don’t make it more likely for you to have breast cancer. However, it’s important to have routine screening mammograms to monitor your breast tissue and detect any changes.

    If you have other cancer-related factors, you may consider a high-risk breast cancer screening program. This program helps you better understand your risk factors and guides how to protect your breast health.

  • Are lumpy breasts normal?

    Breast texture varies from person to person, and your breasts can change throughout your life. In most cases, a lumpy breast texture is considered normal. While the term “fibrocystic breast disease” has been used to describe lumpy breasts, this normal breast tissue isn’t considered a disease.

    A hard, distinct lump in the breast or a specific area of thickening isn’t normal. Your doctor should check these types of lumps.

  • When should I be concerned about lumpy breasts?

    While most lumps aren’t cancerous or serious, any distinct lumps or thickened areas of breast tissue deserve a checkup. A visit to your doctor for a breast exam can help give you peace of mind about your breast health and guide any steps needed to care for yourself.