Understanding Fibrocystic Breast Disease and Causes

Women have many unique health concerns, including matters of reproductive health. We’re taught from an early age how important it is to give ourselves monthly examinations and to monitor ourselves for signs of breast cancer, for example, but what happens when you find a lump?

The truth is that this is not at all uncommon and is rarely a sign of breast cancer. It is actually more likely fibrocystic breast disease, a condition many women have never even heard of. 

This example illustrates why it’s crucial to understand the symptoms, causes, and available treatment options for any female health condition. This guide will walk you through what you need to know about fibrocystic breast disease, including several natural remedies.

Defining Fibrocystic Breast Disease

Also commonly referred to as “fibrocystic breasts,” fibrocystic breast disease is most accurately described as painful, swollen, lumpy, and/or tender breasts. A few facts to know about this condition:

  • It’s rather common, and believed to affect about 50% of women at some point in their lives.
  • It generally impacts women between the ages of 30 and 50.
  • Interestingly, the name fibrocystic breast disease is a misnomer because it’s not actually a disease at all. 
  • In fact, fibrocystic breasts are generally considered normal changes, and many women experience the associated symptoms during or just before the start of their monthly menstrual cycle. 
  • It’s also exceedingly rare for a woman to have them after menopause.

The lumps associated with fibrocystic breast changes are actually fluid-filled cysts along with thickened breast tissue, and can appear in one or both breasts. The thickened tissue itself is referred to as fibrosis, which may occur without the development of cysts.

Breast Cancer or Fibrocystic Breast Disease?

Fibrocystic Breast Disease exam

Although breast lumps are commonly associated with breast cancer, there are distinct ways to determine whether they are in fact those associated with fibrocystic breasts.

  • Lumps in fibrocystic breasts move when touched and don’t feel as though they are affixed to any of the surrounding tissue.
  • Those associated with fibrocystic breast changes typically appear in the same area of the breast each month. 
  • They may seem to disappear after a menstrual period.
  • Fibrocystic changes may include a breast lump that seemingly fluctuates in size, most often enlarging just before a woman’s period and returning to its original size afterward.
  • On the other hand, those who are on certain forms of birth control may experience more mild symptoms.

Fibrocystic breast disease is generally diagnosed when a doctor conducts a breast exam. He or she may order a breast ultrasound or mammogram to more closely observe the tissue or cysts, and may decide to aspirate a cyst or have it biopsied to completely rule out the possibility of breast cancer.

It’s important to note there is no link between breast cancer and experiencing fibrocystic breast disease, despite common misconceptions. In other words, having fibrocystic breasts does not put someone at any higher risk of breast cancer.

Causes of Fibrocystic Breast disease

Fibrocystic breast disease is primarily believed to be caused by hormone level changes, although the specifics are largely unknown. These levels, particularly that of estrogen, fluctuate substantially during and just before a woman’s menstrual cycle. 

Fortunately, fibrocystic breast changes generally do not require major treatment and there are several gentle, natural things you can do to reduce uncomfortable pain and swelling.

4 Natural Treatments for Fibrocystic Breast Disease

The symptoms of fibrocystic breasts can be incredibly uncomfortable, painful, and even debilitating, preventing some women from carrying out day-to-day tasks. The good news is that symptoms often get better on their own once the menstrual cycle has started, even for women who experience the worst discomfort. In the meantime, there are several natural treatments that are highly effective at alleviating the symptoms.

1. Alternate heat and ice.

Try applying both ice packs and warm compresses or heating pads to relieve breast pain and swelling. You may find that you prefer either the cold or hot sensation, or a combination of both.

2. Wear a properly fitted bra.

Wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra is crucial to reducing the uncomfortable side effects of fibrocystic breasts, as it can reduce pain and tenderness in the affected fibrous tissue. 

3. Switch up your diet.

Understanding Fibrocystic Breast Disease and Causes | Naturopathic Dr

Some women with fibrocystic breast pain have reported that consuming certain foods makes their symptoms worse. These include caffeine, chocolate, salt, and those with high fat content, like most “junk” foods. Consider eliminating these items and replacing them with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and herbal teas.

4. Take a supplement.

Certain supplements — Vitamin E, thiamine, and evening primrose oil, among others — have been shown to minimize breast pain and tenderness. They’re also generally considered safe with minimal side effects, and each has other benefits such as anti-inflammatory properties and improving skin’s elasticity and firmness.

As with most issues relating to women’s health, being proactive and taking self care measures are key. Learn how to properly perform a self breast examination and give yourself one regularly, ideally once a month, and don’t ignore breast pain or discomfort, lumps, or any other unusual breast symptoms.If you have concerns about your breast health, or are interested in natural-based remedies for other conditions, contact Dr. Karen Threlkel today.

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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