Related Topics: Breast Cancer, Features

What Is Fibrocystic Breast Disease?

While lumpy breasts and discomfort are common in women it is best to know just what the cause might be.

AnnA Rushton

The first thought any woman has on discovering a lump is to be concerned that it is cancer, but although all lumps should be investigated immediately there is a much more common reason for them.

However, according to the American Cancer Society, having fibrocystic breast disease does not increase your chance of developing breast cancer.

There is no known association between the two conditions.

What else could it be?

Fibrocystic breast disease is the name for healthy breast tissue that feels lumpy and may be painful at times. It is not a true disease and is not harmful.

It is very common, with some experts estimating that about 50 percent of women ages 20–50will experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point.

Medical experts have yet to fully understand the cause of fibrocystic breast disease, but there appears to be a strong association between hormones and breast changes.

Women know that their breast changes throughout their menstrual cycle sos it is not news that breast tissue responds to fluctuating levels of hormones, especially oestrogen.

Changes in the breasts may include:

  • an overgrowth of cells that line the milk ducts
  • an increase in fibrous tissue
  • the formation of cysts

Women who develop fibrocystic changes may be more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle. It is common for symptoms to become more problematic right before or during a menstrual period.

Fibrocystic breast disease tends to affect people who are premenopausal and between the ages of 20 and 50, but they can also affect women post menopause too as women who take HRT after menopause also develop fibrocystic changes.


Symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease may come and go during the menstrual cycle. Symptoms may also vary from month to month. The changes typically occur in both breasts, but lumps and pain may be worse in one breast than the other.

Although it can vary, the pain or discomfort is usually located in the undersides of the breasts or in the upper areas, when the majority of milk glands are and typical symptoms include:

  • breasts that feel lumpy or have rope-like bumps
  • tenderness
  • pain under the armpit
  • swelling
  • breasts that feel heavy

While lumpy breasts and discomfort are common in women with fibrocystic breast disease, it is essential to know when to see a doctor.

If you develop new lumps or skin puckering, or if the pain continues to get worse, it is best to speak to a doctor.

Sometimes, a lump may feel firmer than usual, or a doctor may have other concerns. Performing a mammogram or breast ultrasound can help them make a diagnosis and reveal more detail about the breast tissue and any cysts, such as whether a cyst is fluid-filled or solid.

If a cyst is found to be both solid and fluid filled, a biopsy can help rule out cancer.

Helpful information: 

To be aware of any changes, and have them checked, is obviously the first step but so too is ensuring hormone balance. It is the excess oestrogen that is not balanced by progesterone that is linked to hormonal cancers such as breast cancer.

Knowing if you are oestrogen dominant, and correcting that, is also  a healthy precaution.

What Is Oestrogen Dominance?

How Menopause Affects Your Breasts

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