Other terms used to describe:
- Chronic cystic mastitis
- Cystic mastitis
- Fibrocystic disease
- Mammary dysplasia
Definition of terms
Chronic - Lasting a long period of time
Cystic - Pertaining to a closed sac with a definite wall that contains fluid,
semi- fluid or solid material
Dysplasia - Abnormal development of tissue
Hormones - Chemicals made by the body that affect the function of cells; the most
common female hormones are estrogen, progesterone and prolactin
Fibrocystic - Cystic formations, containing either fluid or solid material, that cause
a change in the breast that can be felt or seen on x-ray
Mammary - Referring to the breast
Mastitis - Inflammation (pain, warmth, redness) of the breast
Microscopic - Too small to be seen by the eye; only visible with a microscope
Fibrocystic changes, a term used by physicians and pathologists, describe
a number of non-cancerous conditions occurring in the breast. These conditions
are found in the breasts as lumps or masses which occur and change with
the menstrual cycle and may be accompanied by pain and tenderness. Previously,
the term "fibrocystic disease" was used to describe the process
and was falsely implicated as a risk factor for cancer. However, at least
50 percent of all women have irregular feeling, lumpy breasts. Furthermore,
studies have shown that as many as 90 percent have microscopic, fibrocystic changes.
These changes are a normal response to the hormonal stimulation of the
breast tissue and do not represent a "disease" process . Thus,
the term "fibrocystic disease" is not an accurate description
of the changes. Fibrocystic changes do not increase the risk for cancer.
The term is commonly applied to any change that is not cancerous. Because
there is no exact clinical definition, ask your physician precisely what
type of changes have been found in your breast tissue if you receive the
diagnosis of fibrocystic changes.
The breasts are very complex glandular organs that consist of 15 to 20
lobes that radiate from the nipples. These lobes further divide into 20
to 40 lobules that contain 10 to 100 alveoli where the milk or fluid is
produced in the breast. This whole glandular structure is changing constantly
because of the stimulation of estrogen and progesterone hormones on the
breast tissue. When the stimulation begins after the menstrual period,
the breasts respond by beginning to fill with fluid. Each breast will
produce and store between 15 to 30 ccs (3 to 6 teaspoons) of fluid in
the ducts during the month. This causes a feeling of lumpiness, especially
right before a menstrual period. The hormonal influence also causes extra
layers of cells to be produced in the ducts. The combination of the two
causes an increase in the size of the breasts and possibly tenderness or pain.
Some drugs routinely prescribed by a physician can cause some women to
experience lumpiness, fullness and tenderness in the breast tissues. This
type of lump feels very similar to those produced by hormonal changes
in the body. The changes are not harmful but the causes may confuse you
or your physician.
- Blood pressure medications
- Aldactone® (a diuretic)
- Heart medications
- Lanoxin® (digitalis)
- Antipsychotic/antinausea drugs
- Ulcer medications
When you check your breasts before your menstrual period, they will feel
different than at the end of your period. Therefore, it is very important
to examine your breasts on a regular basis at the same time of the month;
the best time is at the end of the cycle. The increase in cells and fluid
in the breast will often cause them to feel lumpy. If you find a lump
in a breast, feel the opposite breast in the same area for a similar change.
If one is found, you probably have discovered a normal hormonal change.
It is safe to wait and go through a menstrual period and re-check the
same area. If the area is smaller or softer at your second self-exam,
then it has been stimulated by hormonal changes that are normal. If the
lump has not become softer or smaller, a physician will need to evaluate
the area. Every woman has a normal pattern of lumpiness and bumpiness
in her breasts tissue. Only through regular self-exams can a woman get
to know this pattern of lumpiness in her own breasts. A physician examining
the breasts once a year will not be able to learn the individual patterns
of breast lumpiness.
The term "mastalgia" ("mast" is Latin for breast, "algia"
for pain) is a term used by many physicians. Most women experience increased
tenderness in their breasts before their period. Again, this is from fluid
accumulation in the breasts. Some women experience greater pain prior
to the beginning of the period. This pain usually decreases at the end
of the period. This type of pain is associated with fluid and the stimulation
of the breast tissues by the hormones estrogen and progesterone. If pain
is not associated with the menstrual cycle or hormonal menopausal medication,
consult your physician.
Some women report less pain when caffeine is decreased or eliminated from
their diets. Caffeine-containing substances include coffee, tea, cola
and chocolate. Other women are not affected by eliminating caffeine from
their diets. Reducing sodium intake has also been effective in reducing
pain in some women. Some physicians have found benefits in using vitamin
E and other vitamin supplements to reduce pain. Herbal supplements, such
as Ginseng or Dong quai may actually increase breast tenderness, pain
and/or discharge. Contact your physician for recommendations.
Some women experience a clear to milky color discharge from their breasts
right before the start of their monthly cycle or at the beginning of their
menstrual period. This type of discharge is not unusual. It may also be
noticed after sexual stimulation or when women begin taking estrogen supplements.
The medications listed above have also caused some women to experience
breast discharge. An occasional small amount of discharge from both breasts
is not abnormal. However, if this discharge continues throughout the month,
comes from only one breast, or has any evidence of blood, contact your