Fibrocystic Disease

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Fibrocystic disease occurs when scar-like capsules of tissue surround fluid-filled cystic lumps of duct tissue. Although harmless, these lumps can sometimes cause breast pain late in your menstrual cycle. 

Virtually all women will have some form of this condition during their reproductive years. However, most women will not seek treatment.

What Causes Breast Cysts?

The glandular tissue of the breasts cycles monthly with menstrual periods. It enlarges to prepare for a pregnancy, and then shrinks if one does not occur. This cycling causes cysts and excess fibrous tissue to build up. 

Diagnosing Fibrocystic Disease

Doctors may have difficulty telling the difference between this condition and breast cancer.

cysts in breast diagram
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If lumps quickly appear and disappear along with your menstrual cycle, that clearly distinguishes the cysts from cancer. 

If the lump stays the same, your doctor will need to conduct further tests.


After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, your doctor inserts a small needle into the lump. This draws fluid out. If the lump disappears, cancer is highly unlikely. If the lump remains, or if the fluid withdrawn is bloody, it will need to be examined to see if cancer is present.


There are two types of biopsies:

  • A fine needle biopsy is nearly identical to an aspiration. The only difference is that a tiny piece of tissue is also drawn out of the lump.
  • An excisional biopsy removes the entire lump through a surgical incision. This can be done with local anesthesia if the lump is small and superficial.

Once cancer has been ruled out, fibrocystic disease may be safely treated with observation and conservative measures, including:

  • Pain relievers
  • Hormone medications for severe cases
  • Applying a heating pad
  • Wearing a supportive bra
  • Changing your diet, such as caffeine avoidance


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.