Many women have breasts that feel lumpy, thick, and tender, especially right before their periods. These symptoms are called fibrocystic breast changes. They may also be called cyclic breast changes, because they come and go with your menstrual cycle.
Fibrocystic breast changes are normal and harmless. They aren't cancer, and they don't increase your chance of getting breast cancer.
But having fibrocystic breast changes can make it harder to find a lump that could be cancer. This is a special concern if you also have a higher-than-normal risk for breast cancer. So if you or a close family member has had breast cancer or if you have had radiation treatment or a breast biopsy showing atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), talk to your doctor about how often you need a breast checkup.
Experts think that fibrocystic breast changes are linked to the hormone changes that happen during a woman's menstrual cycle. Each month, a woman's body gets ready for a possible pregnancy. It releases hormones that signal the breasts to make milk. The milk (or mammary) glands get bigger, which may make some women's breasts feel lumpy and tender. These symptoms go away after a woman starts her period.
You are more likely to have fibrocystic breasts if your mother or sisters have them.
If you have fibrocystic breasts, you may notice the symptoms right before your menstrual period. You may find that:
Symptoms can be on one or both sides and can occur up toward and under the armpit.
Many women first notice fibrocystic breast changes when they are in their 30s. At this age, your hormone levels start to vary more than before.
If you notice a new breast lump, wait through one menstrual cycle. If it's still there after your period, see your doctor for a breast exam. If you aren't having menstrual periods, see your doctor for a breast exam as soon as you notice a new lump.
To diagnose fibrocystic breast changes, your doctor will do a breast exam and ask when you had your last period. Further exams and tests usually aren't needed. But if your doctor needs more information or you want reassurance, you may have other tests, such as a mammogram or a breast ultrasound.
You don't need to do anything about fibrocystic breast changes. They are normal, and they don't lead to cancer.
If breast pain bothers you:
Although there is no evidence that any of these help with breast pain, some women report that they feel better when they give up caffeine; eat a very low-fat diet; or take certain vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements, such as magnesium, vitamin E, or vitex. Be sure your doctor knows about any supplements you’re taking. And talk with your doctor before you make any major changes to your diet.
Learning about fibrocystic breast changes:
|American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)|
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American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is a nonprofit organization of professionals who provide health care for women, including teens. The ACOG Resource Center publishes manuals and patient education materials. The Web publications section of the site has patient education pamphlets on many women's health topics, including reproductive health, breast-feeding, violence, and quitting smoking.
- Bundred N (2007). Breast pain, search date January 2006. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Other Works Consulted
- Mansel RE (2010). Management of breast pain. In JR Harris et al., eds., Diseases of the Breast, 4th ed., pp. 52–57. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Smith RP (2008). Fibrocystic breast change. In Netter's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2nd ed., pp. 371–373. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology|
|Last Revised||January 13, 2012|
Last Revised: January 13, 2012
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