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Clinical case

Fibrocystic breast disease—also called fibrocystic breasts or fibrocystic change—is a benign (noncancerous) condition in which a woman has painful lumps in her breasts.
The word disease may sound frightening, but fibrocystic breast disease is not dangerous; it is more of a bothersome condition because it can cause discomfort. The condition is common. The Washington University School of Medicine estimates that approximately 60 percent of women develop fibrocystic breast disease at some point in their lives (Wash).
Although fibrocystic breasts are not dangerous, the condition can make the detection of breast cancer more difficult.

What Causes Fibrocystic Breast Disease?

Women’s breast tissues change in response to the natural hormones that their ovaries produce. If you have fibrocystic breast disease, your breasts have more pronounced changes in response to the hormones, which results in swelling and tender or painful lumps. Symptoms are most common just before or during your period. You may feel lumps in your breasts caused by cysts (fluid-filled sacs) or swelling of your breast lobules (milk-producing glands). You may also feel a lumpy thickening in your breast tissues caused by the excess growth of fibrous tissues in your breasts.

What Are the Symptoms of Fibrocystic Breast Disease?

If you have fibrocystic breast disease you may experience swelling, tenderness, pain, a thickening of tissue, or lumps in one or both breasts. You may have more swelling or lumps in one breast than the other. Your symptoms probably get worse right before your period due to hormonal changes, but you may have symptoms all month. The lumps in your breasts may change size throughout the month.
Usually, the lumps in fibrocystic breasts are movable but sometimes, if there is a lot of fibrous tissue, you will not be able to move the lumps. 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, because it may be a sign of breast cancer.

How Is Fibrocystic Breast Disease Treated?

Most women who have fibrocystic breast disease do not require treatment. Home treatment is usually sufficient to relieve pain and discomfort. In rare cases, medical intervention is necessary.

Home Treatment

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are usually effective at relieving the pain and discomfort experienced with fibrocystic breast disease. 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. Try applying a warm cloth or ice wrapped in a cloth to your breasts to see which works best for you.

Medical Intervention

If your pain symptoms are severe, you may need treatment from your doctor to relieve your symptoms. Medical treatment is rarely needed. Treatments your doctor may provide include:
  • Birth control pills or hormones can help reduce the changes in your breasts caused by hormones.
  • Fine-needle aspiration, which is a surgical procedure to remove the fluid from the cyst using a needle, which can relieve pain that is caused by large cysts.
  • Surgical removal of the cyst may be needed if fine-needle aspiration does not relieve your symptoms.

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