Fibrocystic breast disease, commonly called fibrocystic breasts or fibrocystic change, is a benign (noncancerous) condition in which the breasts feel lumpy. Fibrocystic breasts are NOT harmful or dangerous but may be bothersome or uncomfortable for some women. Many women with fibrocystic breasts will not have any associated symptoms. Although it is not harmful to have fibrocystic breasts, this condition can make the detection of breast cancer more challenging.

Breast tissue changes in response to the hormones made by the ovaries. Fibrocystic breasts have more pronounced changes in response to these hormones. This can result in swelling and tender or painful breast lumps. Symptoms are most common just before or during menstrual periods. In addition to breast lumps caused by cysts and swelling of breast lobules, a lumpy thickening caused by an excess growth of fibrous tissue can also be noted.

Any woman can get fibrocystic breast disease, but it most commonly occurs in women in their 30s to 50s. Birth control pills may reduce your symptoms, and hormone therapy may increase them. Generally, symptoms typically improve or resolve after menopause.

Fibrocystic breast disease does NOT increase the risk of developing breast cancer, but the breast changes can make it more difficult to identify potentially cancerous lumps during breast exams and on mammograms. Annual mammography and regular self-breast examinations are advised. It is important that you become familiar with how your breasts look and feel so that you will know when new changes arise.

If you have fibrocystic breast disease, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Thickening of tissue
  • Breast lumps

Swelling or lumps in one breast can occur. Your symptoms will probably be worse right before your period due to hormonal changes, but you may have symptoms throughout the month.

The lumps in fibrocystic breasts tend to fluctuate in size throughout the month and are usually movable. But sometimes if there’s a lot of fibrous tissue, the lumps may be more fixed in one place. You may also experience pain under your arms. Some women have a green or dark brown discharge from their nipples. See your doctor immediately if clear, red, or bloody fluid comes out of your nipple, as this may be a sign of breast cancer.

Your doctor can diagnose fibrocystic breast disease by doing a physical breast exam. Your doctor may also order a mammogram, ultrasound, and/or MRI to get a better look at the changes in your breasts. If your doctor is concerned about the appearance of a cyst or other finding in your breast, they may order a biopsy to see if it is cancerous. This can be performed by a breast surgeon.

Most women who have fibrocystic breast disease do not require invasive treatment. Home treatment is usually sufficient to relieve associated pain and discomfort. Over-the-counter pain relievers can usually effectively relieve any pain and discomfort. You can also try wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra to reduce breast pain and tenderness. Some women find that applying warm or cold compresses relieves their symptoms.