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. Some forms of fibrocystic disease are more common in women who go on to develop breast cancer.
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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.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He or she will do a physical exam. There are generally only two concerns that arise from these symptoms:
Tests may include the following:
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 If the lump remains, or if the fluid withdrawn is bloody, it will need to be examined to see if cancer is present.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:
Once cancer has been ruled out, fibrocystic disease may be safely treated with observation and conservative measures, including:
There is no clear way 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 breast cancer screening. The following recommendations are for women with no symptoms who are not at high risk for breast cancer:
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Canadian Women's Health Network
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Diabetes and pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp051.cfm. Accessed July 2010.
Berkow R, Beers M, et al. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. New York, NY: Pocket Books; 1999.
Breast cancer screening: research and guidelines. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated November 2009. Accessed January 19, 2010.
DynaMed Editorial Team. Fibrocystic breast disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated July 20, 2010. Accessed November 4, 2010.
Fibrocystic breasts. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibrocystic-breast-changes/AN00715. Updated December 2007. Accessed July 27, 2009.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Andrea Chisholm
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2012 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.
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