Fibrocystic breast disease, a condition causing breast pain, cysts, and noncancerous breast lumps, affects many women. It may also be called fibroglandular changes, fibrocystic changes, chronic cystic mastitis, mammary dysplasia, or benign breast disease. Fibrocystic breast disease is really not a disease, but rather a condition that commonly affects women between the ages of 25 and 50 years. It may involve finding one lump or several in both breasts.
The vast majority (almost 85%) of breast lumps are not malignant (i.e., they are not cancerous). Nevertheless, some are, so if a woman notices a lump, she should have it examined by her doctor. Most women have some general lumpiness in their breasts, usually in the upper, outer area. This kind of lumpiness is quite common and does not mean that she has an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Beyond the occasional discomfort, if a breast lump is not malignant, it's not considered harmful. Although early studies showed a higher risk of breast cancer in women with lumpy breasts, recent studies have shown that most types of fibrocystic changes are not associated with higher cancer risk.
Many breast lumps are actually cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that may grow bigger towards the end of a woman's menstrual cycle when her body is retaining more fluid. However, not all breast lumps are cysts. They may also be benign tumours called fibroadenomas (this condition is usually found in younger women). Infection or severe injury can also cause lumps in the breast. Lumps may also be the result of a tumour made up of fatty tissues (called a lipoma) or even a blocked milk duct (called an intraductal papilloma). None of these conditions are malignant or cancerous.
No one knows the cause of cysts. They usually disappear after menopause, so it's suspected that female hormones may be involved.
The signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease include:
Some cysts are very small, but others can be as large as a hen's egg. If you apply pressure, larger cysts may change shape slightly and can be moved around a bit under your skin.
Most fibroadenomas have a firm, smooth, rubbery feeling and a well-defined shape. They also tend to move around under your skin.