Fibrocystic Breast Disease – Symptoms, Cause, Frequency and Diagnosis

What is it: The breast contains a lot of glandular tissue. Between the ages 30 to 50, many women complain of pain and lumpiness in the breasts usually associated with menses. Physical (clinical) examination and imaging tests, like ultrasound, may show no abnormality. This condition is historically called fibrocystic breast disease. This condition is not a disease and is usually self limiting. Hence many doctors call this fibrocystic breast condition (FCC).

What is the incidence? Fibrocystic breast disease affects as much as 60 % of the female population. With menopause, the symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease disappear.

What are the causes? The lumpy feel and tenderness (or pain on touching the breasts) is due to cyclical changes during the menstrual cycle produced by changes in the blood levels of female hormones. Thus when menses cease after menopause, all these symptoms also disappear. Women who undergo hormone replacement therapy (taking hormone pills or injections) have more severe symptoms. The main hormones that are involved in this condition are estrogen and progesterone. The process of repeated accumulation of fluid and debris within the breasts over many menstrual cycles causes fibrocystic breast disease in some women.

Other facts. Fibrocystic breast disease affects both breasts. Sometimes one breast may be more involved in this condition. However after some time both are equally affected.

Fibrocystic disease of the breasts and cancer. Fibrocystic breasts themselves are not cancerous. However (and this is important) fibrocystic breast disease can mimic many symptoms seen in breast cancer. Hence they can cause much anxiety and alarm the woman. Hence a medical expert’s opinion is always advisable. If needed further tests such as mammography (a special X-ray of the breasts) and breast sonography may be advisable. Also, there may be a cancerous lump within a fibrocystic breast, thus complicating the matter further.

What are the specific symptoms of fibrocystic breast condition? The main symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease are pain and tenderness (painful on touching) of the breasts, with a lumpy feel often present. Some women complain of a dull ache with itching or fullness of the breasts. These symptoms all are exacerbated at the onset of menstrual periods and subside within a short period. This transient nature of the symptoms and signs is typical of fibrocystic breast condition.

On physical examination of the breasts, the woman may feel lumps that are rubbery and these change shape on pressure. These lumps are usually most common in the part (quadrant) of the breast close to the arm pits. Also, other characteristics of these lumps differentiate these from cancerous tumors. The lumps in the fibrocystic breast are free from underlying or overlying tissues, thus being freely mobile. Also they are smooth and rounded in nature. Some women also complain of severe pain on touching, making examination of the breast extremely difficult. In these cases, it may be better for the woman to undergo breast mammography or ultrasound, or even needle biopsy.

For further information see Fibrocystic Breast Disease.

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