Fibrocystic disease occurs when there are fluid-filled cystic lumps of duct tissue. These lumps are surrounded by a scar-like capsule of tissue in the breasts.
Although harmless, these lumps can sometimes be the site of pain (mastalgia) that recurs late in each menstrual cycle. The greatest problem with fibrocystic disease is telling the difference between this condition and breast cancer.
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What Causes Fibrocystic Disease?
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. Virtually all women will have some form of this condition during their reproductive years. However, most women will not seek treatment.
Who Is At Risk for Fibrocystic Disease?
All women between puberty and menopause are at risk for this condition.
Fibrocystic Disease Symptoms
- Multiple lumps (cysts) will occur in both breasts that cycle with menstrual periods.
- Cysts may produce no symptoms or cause pain and tenderness.
- A fibrocystic lump may be difficult to tell apart from a cancerous mass. But, its rapid disappearance with menses and reappearance in the next menstrual cycle help to distinguish this condition from breast cancer.
Diagnosing Fibrocystic Disease
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include the following:
- Mammogram —Mammograms alone cannot distinguish between a benign cyst and cancer, a lump that does not show significant monthly changes must be evaluated by other tests.
- Needle aspiration—If the fluid is removed, the cyst usually resolves.
- Excisional of a suspicious area.
Fibrocystic Disease Treatment
Once it has been determined that the lump is not a cancer, it can be left alone. If the lump's identity is still in doubt, it should be biopsied.
After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, a small needle is inserted into the lump. This is to draw 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 If the lump remains, or if the fluid withdrawn is bloody, it will need to be examined to see if cancer is present.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
Preventing Fibrocystic Disease
There are not current guidelines to prevent fibrocystic disease. The most important issue for you and your doctor is being able to distinguish this condition from breast cancer. Follow your doctor's guidelines for regular breast cancer screening.
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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.