The causes of fibrocystic breast changes are not completely understood. However, these changes and the resulting symptoms are often linked to fluctuations in a woman’s hormone levels. This is evidenced by the fact that fibrocystic breast changes vary in relation to a woman’s menstrual cycle. During menopause these symptoms normally disappear unless the woman chooses to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
In addition, there is a lower incidence of fibrocystic breast changes among women who take oral contraceptives. This is yet another clue that fibrocystic breast changes are hormone-related. In fact, birth control pills are sometimes prescribed to treat fibrocystic changes. This common form of contraception suppresses the body’s natural hormone production by replacing it with a controlled amount of synthetic female hormones, usually both estrogen and progesterone.
Although the reports are inconclusive, diet may also play a role in the occurrence or severity of fibrocystic breast changes. Some physicians may recommend that a woman reduce her dietary fat intake, as well as her caffeine consumption to lower the risk of developing the condition. Still, the main cause of fibrocystic breast changes appears to be a hormonal imbalance involving estrogen and progesterone.
Signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breasts
There are many signs and symptoms commonly associated with fibrocystic breast changes, especially breast pain. Often, the pain that is associated with fibrocystic breast changes radiates from the breast up into the shoulders or upper arms. At times, it can be localized, as in the case of a rapidly expanding cyst. Some of the more common breast changes include:
- Nipple discharge, possibly including sensation changes or even itching
- Cysts (sacs filled with fluid) that form and then resolve within a few weeks
- A dense, cobblestone consistency to the breasts
- Full feeling in breasts with tenderness or swelling
- Breast pain (mastalgia) in one or both breasts
- Lumpiness (nodularity)
- Breast engorgement (painful overfilling of breasts with milk)
These symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. Many women report that fibrocystic breast changes are cyclical, with a worsening of symptoms as the menstrual cycle approaches.
Symptoms of fibroadenomas can differ from other types of benign breast changes. The most common symptoms include:
- A moveable, painless lump that feels firm or rubbery
- A lump that may grow larger, particularly during pregnancy
Although rare in older women, fibroadenomas often get smaller after menopause unless the woman takes hormone replacement therapy.