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have breasts that feel lumpy, thick, and tender, especially right before their
periods. These symptoms are called fibrocystic breast changes. They may also be
called cyclic breast changes, because they come and go with your
changes are normal and harmless. They aren't cancer, and they don't increase
your chance of getting breast cancer.
But having fibrocystic
breast changes can make it harder to find a lump that could be cancer. This is
a special concern if you also have a higher-than-normal risk for breast cancer.
So if you or a close family member has had breast cancer or if you have had
radiation treatment or a breast biopsy showing atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), talk to your doctor
about how often you need a breast checkup.
think that fibrocystic breast changes are linked to the hormone changes that
happen during a woman's menstrual cycle. Each month, a woman's body gets ready for a
possible pregnancy. It releases hormones that signal the breasts to make milk.
The milk (or mammary) glands get bigger, which may make some women's breasts feel lumpy
and tender. These symptoms go away after a woman starts her period.
You are more likely to have fibrocystic breasts if your mother or sisters
If you have fibrocystic
breasts, you may notice the symptoms right before your menstrual period. You may find that:
Symptoms can be on one or both sides and can occur up
toward and under the armpit.
Many women first notice fibrocystic
breast changes when they are in their 30s. At this age, your hormone levels
start to vary more than before.
you notice a new breast lump, wait through one menstrual cycle. If it's still
there after your period, see your doctor for a breast exam. If you aren't
having menstrual periods, see your doctor for a breast exam as soon as you
notice a new lump.
To diagnose fibrocystic breast changes, your
doctor will do a
breast exam and ask when you had your last period. Further exams and tests usually aren't needed. But if your doctor needs more information or you want reassurance, you may have other tests, such as a mammogram or a breast ultrasound.
You don't need to do anything about fibrocystic breast changes. They are normal, and they don't lead to cancer.
If breast pain bothers
Although there is no evidence that any of these help with breast pain, some
women report that they feel better when they give up caffeine; eat a very low-fat diet; or
take certain vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements. Be sure your doctor knows about any supplements you're taking. And talk with your doctor before you make any major changes to your diet.
Learning about fibrocystic breast changes:
Goyal A (2011). Breast pain, search date May 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Other Works Consulted
Mansel RE (2010). Management of breast pain. In JR Harris et al., eds., Diseases of the Breast, 4th ed., pp. 52–57. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Smith RP (2008). Fibrocystic breast change. In Netter's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2nd ed., pp. 371–373. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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