Fibrocystic Breast Disorder

Fibrocystic (fy-bro-SIS-tik) breast disorder is the general term used to describe noncancerous changes in the breast, such as the formation of fluid-filled sacs called cysts.


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When a Breast Lump Is Not Breast Cancer

It is estimated that more than half of all women will experience the breast changes that are known as fibrocystic breast disorder. The symptoms vary from person to person. Some women have no symptoms at all. Others notice a lump that feels like a smooth grape under the skin. These lumps, or cysts, are sometimes painful or tender to the touch.

What Causes Fibrocystic Breast Disorder?

The breast is made up of fatty tissue filled with pockets called lobes, each of which contains many smaller pockets called lobules. After a woman gives birth, these lobules produce milk if she chooses to breast-feed the baby. As a woman goes through her menstrual cycle, the body releases hormones that cause the pockets in the breast to enlarge and hold extra fluid. At the end of the cycle, this swelling disappears, but fluid can sometimes get trapped in these openings. Over time, cysts can form.

Fibrocystic breast disorder usually affects women between the ages of 30 and 50. The lumps often are especially noticeable before and during menstruation. When a woman reaches her 50s or 60s and stops menstruating, her symptoms usually disappear as well.

* benign (be-NINE) means a condition is not cancerous and will probably improve or go away.

How Does the Doctor Know It Is Not Cancer?

A doctor will start with a physical examination and mammogram, or x-ray of the breast, because benign * breast lumps often look and feel different from cancerous ones. If the lump turns out to be a cyst, the doctor may use a small needle to drain the fluid. If the fluid is bloody or appears unusual in any way, it may be sent to the laboratory for analysis. In most cases, no other treatment is needed.

If the lump is solid, a biopsy (BY-op-see) will be performed. During this procedure, some or all of the tissue is removed and examined under a microscope for the abnormal cell shapes and growth patterns that indicate cancer. Researchers are investigating whether there is a connection between fibrocystic breast disorder and a woman's risk for breast cancer.

See also
Breast Cancer


U.S. National Cancer Institute, Building 31, Room 10A03, 31 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892-2580. This U.S. government agency provides information about both noncancerous and cancerous breast changes.
Telephone 800-4-CANCER

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