What is Fibrocystic Breast Disease?

Fibrocystic breast disease is common and usually benign condition. Symptoms include swollen, tender breasts, and/or one or more lumps. Frequently, symptoms worsen just before a woman's menstrual cycle, subsiding near the end. For the majority of women these symptoms are a temporary discomfort; however some women experience severe pain.

Fibrocystic breast disease, for many women, is very treatable and preventable. For years, doctors have recommended that women avoid caffeine, high fat diets and so on, and even to take drugs with strong side effects. In some cases this helps, in others it doesn't. However, recent research has offered new hope because it has shown a strong connection between the wearing of bras and benign fibrocystic lumps, cysts and pain. For example, Dr. Gregory Heigh of Florida has found that over 90% of women with fibrocystic changes find improvement when they stop wearing their brassieres.

The addition of B vitamin supplementation to the diet of women suffering from PMS, heavy menstrual bleeding, and fibrocystic breast disease helped to decrease the severity of their symptoms. Studies conducted at UCLA Medical School during the 1980s found that taking a specific B vitamin, pyridoxine B6, helped to relieve symptoms of menstrual cramps and PMS.

The cause of fibrocystic breast change is not known, but the symptoms and signs are linked to a woman's hormone patterns. Each month, the breasts respond to the cyclic peaks and troughs of estrogen and progesterone. As hormone levels rise just before and during menstruation, mammary blood vessels swell, ducts and alveoli expand, and cell growth proliferates. Breast tissue retains fluid and grows larger. After menstruation, these processes reverse.

Fibrocystic breasts are characterized by lumpiness and usually discomfort in one or both breasts. The condition is very common and benign, meaning that fibrocystic breasts are not malignant (cancerous). Fibrocystic breast disease (FBD), now referred to as fibrocystic changes or fibrocystic breast condition, is the most common cause of "lumpy breasts" in women and affects more than 60% of women. The condition primarily affects women between the ages of 30 and 50 and tends to become less of a problem after menopause.

The cause is not completely understood, but the changes are believed to be associated with ovarian hormones since the condition usually subsides with menopause , and may vary in consistency during the menstrual cycle. The incidence of it is estimated to be over 60% of all women. It is common in women between the ages of 30 and 50, and rare in postmenopausal women. The incidence is lower in women taking birth control pills. The risk factors may include family history and diet (such as excessive dietary fat , and caffeine intake), although these are controversial.

The effectiveness of Vitamin E, Vitamin B-6, and herbal preparations, such as evening primrose oil are somewhat controversial. Discuss their use with your health care provider. Oral contraceptives may be prescribed because they often decrease the symptoms. A synthetic androgen may be prescribed by a doctor in severe cases, when the potential benefit is thought to outweigh the potential adverse effects.

During each menstrual cycle, normal hormonal stimulation causes the breasts' milk glands and ducts to enlarge, and in turn, the breasts may retain water. Before or during menstruation, the breasts may feel swollen, painful, tender, or lumpy. The severity of these symptoms varies significantly from woman to woman. Some women only experience mild breast swelling during menstruation, while others experience constant breast tenderness.
Corwin Brown
Fibrocystic Breast Disease