Are Lumpy Breasts A Risk for Breast Cancer?

Fibrocystic Breast Tissue
Fibrocystic Breast Tissue on a Mammogram. National Cancer Institute

Lumpy breasts are a common breast condition referred to as fibrocystic breast tissue. Having fibrocystic breasts doesn’t increase your risk for getting breast cancer.

If you have lumpy breasts, you are one of a large group of women; it is estimated that over one half of all women will experience fibrocystic breast tissue changes during their lifetime.

Women in their 20s to 50s are most likely to experience fibrocystic breast changes.

It is rare for women post-menopause to experience fibrocystic breast changes except for those women on hormone therapy.

When you have fibrocystic breast tissue, which is a noncancerous condition, your breasts will feel lumpy or rope-like to your touch, and initially this can cause anxiety and concern. While having fibrocystic breast changes doesn't increase your risk of breast cancer, having fibrocystic breasts can make it harder to find a new breast lump or thickening in lumpy breast tissue.

Women with breasts that are lumpy have dense breast tissue. It is important for them to be consistent about performing breast self-exams so they are familiar with what is normal for their breasts and can report any changes to their physicians.

Fibrocystic breasts may mean :

  • Lumps or areas of thickening.
  • Breast pain that may be generalized throughout your breast.
  • Breast lump sizes that may fluctuate.
  • A discharge from the nipple that happens without using pressure or squeezing the nipple.
  • Changes that don’t just happen in one breast.
  • An increase in breast pain or lumpiness from mid-cycle to just before your period each month.

Once referred to as a disease, medical professionals now refer to lumpy breasts as "fibrocystic breasts” since having fibrocystic breasts doesn’t mean a woman has a disease.

Whether you call them lumpy breasts or fibrocystic breasts you must become familiar with how your breasts feel so you can know when something doesn’t feel right.

While fibrocystic breasts are considered to be normal, they may be painful, tender and lumpy. This is often true in the upper, outer areas of the breasts. Pain and soreness are usually most felt before menstruation.

Have your breasts checked by your gynecologist or family physician if you have an area in your breast where the pain continues to occur or gets worse. You also need to be seen if you feel a new lump or thickening that continues to be there after your period is over.

Your physician will do a clinical breast exam, and if any area is of concern or warrants further evaluation, he or she may send you for a mammogram or a biopsy.

Your fibrocystic breast tissue can make reading and interpreting your mammogram more difficult. Taking this fact into consideration, your physician will refer you to a breast center that uses digital mammography.

Using digital mammography enables the radiologist to use a contrast of light and dark and also to enlarge the images of breast tissue, on the screen, for a more comprehensive evaluation of the breast area in question.

If you aren't, as yet, menopausal, the discomfort you are feeling may come from how the hormone levels fluctuate during your menstrual cycle. These fluctuations may result in your breasts having areas of lumpy or thickening tissue that are tender, sore and even swollen. Fibrocystic breast changes are usually the most uncomfortable before each menstrual period. Your pain and lumpiness usually are relieved once you begin your period.

Under a microscope, fibrocystic breast tissue may show:

  • Cysts, which are fluid-filled round or oval sacs.
  • Fibrous tissue
  • An overgrowth of cells, which line the milk ducts and/or milk-producing tissues, called lobules.
  • Breast lobules that are enlarged.

If you are like most women that have fibrocystic changes, and are not bothered by symptoms, no treatment may be necessary. However, your physician may advise that you have closer follow-ups. If you have what you consider to be mild symptoms, you may be advised to try well-fitted bras that offer support.

If you have painful cysts, your physician may suggest draining the fluid from the cysts to reduce your symptoms.

To reduce your symptoms, reduce your salt intake, and staying away from caffeinated beverages.

You may read on the Internet that some types of vitamin or herbal supplements relieve symptoms. This has not been proven to be effective in reducing the pain and discomfort of fibrocystic breast changes. What has been proven is that some supplements, if taken in large doses, have side effects

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health

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