Fibrocystic Breast Disease / Uterine Fibroids Support
If you’ve discovered a lump in your breast or are experiencing regular breast pain, you may be terrified of going to the doctor for fear of being diagnosed with breast cancer. While the real risk of cancer is an indisputable reason for seeking urgent medical advice to ensure early detection, you may be driving yourself crazy with worry about something that’s probably harmless. Breast lumps and breast pain may be a sign of fibrocystic breast changes, which are characterised by the presence of fluid-filled sacs and scar-like tissues in one or both breasts. The condition affects more than half of all women at some time in their lives, most commonly in their 20s to 50s. Previously referred to as fibrocystic breast disease, the condition is now considered to be normal and not a disease at all.
Nevertheless, the symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes can be worrying and uncomfortable. You should consult your doctor to ensure that you’re diagnosed correctly and to exclude the possibility of other conditions, including breast cancer. Breast anomalies that are considered to be within the scope of normal breast changes can often be detected during a physical examination, but you may need to undergo an ultrasound or mammogram if your doctor finds something unusual (although you should ensure this is absolutely necessary before subjecting yourself to such testing). A sample of suspicious tissue may also need to be biopsied for further assessment.
Some women with fibrocystic breast changes have only mild symptoms and therefore need no treatment at all. If you’re not so lucky and are regularly experiencing pain associated with the condition, you may find relief with the use of over-the-counter pain medicines. If these aren’t effective, your doctor may prescribe other medications, such as the oral contraceptive pill, which regulates the hormonal fluctuations that are thought to play a role in the development of fibrocystic breast changes. If you have large cysts that are causing you pain, your doctor may recommend that you undergo fine-needle aspiration, which involves the draining of fluid from the cysts, resulting in pain relief. Surgical removal of persistent breast lumps that don’t respond to other treatments is only rarely necessary.
Lifestyle and home remedies that may help alleviate your symptoms include wearing a properly fitted support bra, particularly while exercising and even while sleeping, especially at times when your breasts are very sensitive. Reducing your caffeine intake or completely eliminating caffeine from your diet, as well as reducing your fat intake to less than 20% of your total daily calorie consumption may also be effective. Some women also find symptom relief by supplementing with evening primrose oil.
THE RISK OF CANCER
If you’ve been diagnosed with fibrocystic breast changes, you may be worried that the condition increases your risk of developing breast cancer in the future. However, this isn’t the case. Although it’s not entirely clear what causes fibrocystic breast changes, as mentioned, fluctuating levels of reproductive hormones, particularly estrogen, over your monthly cycle are thought to play a role. While estrogen has also been implicated in the development of breast cancer, cancer risk is not increased in all women with fibrocystic breast changes. The risk of developing breast cancer is only increased if the observed changes include the growth of abnormal cells around the breast lobes and milk ducts, a condition known as atypia.
Although the presence of fibrocystic breast changes doesn’t increase your risk of developing breast cancer, existing breast lumps may make it difficult for you to notice any new changes in your breasts that may in fact be a sign of cancer. It’s therefore vitally important to get yourself checked out without delay if you find a new lump that’s still noticeable after your menstrual period, or if an existing lump changes in any way. Remember that early detection significantly increases your chances of making a full recovery if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Possible signs of fibrocystic breast changes
- Lumps or thickened areas that may change in size and affect both breasts
- Breast pain or tenderness
- Non-bloody, green or brown nipple discharge
- An increase in symptoms from ovulation (mid-cycle) to the start of your menstrual period.
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