Fibrocystic changes of the breast formerly called fibrocystic breast disease include breast pain, cysts, and lumpiness that are not due to cancer. Most women have some general lumpiness in the breasts, usually in the upper outer part, near the armpit. Many women have this kind of lumpiness, breast pain , breast cysts , or some combination of these symptoms—a condition called fibrocystic changes. Normally, the levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. Milk glands and ducts enlarge and breasts retain fluid when levels increase, and the breasts return to normal when levels decrease. These fluctuations partly explain why breasts are swollen and more sensitive during a particular time of each menstrual cycle.
Fibrocystic breast disease is a name for healthy breast tissue that feels lumpy and may be painful at times. It is not a true disease and is not harmful. The medical community sometimes refers to the condition as fibrocystic changes. Fibrocystic breast disease is very common. Some experts estimate that about 50 percent of women ages 20—50 in the United States experience fibrocystic breast changes at some point.
Fibrocystic breast changes happen when women develop fluid-filled cysts along with areas of fibrosis in one or both breasts. Fibrosis is a thickening of the breast tissue that you and your doctor can feel through the skin. It can be somewhat firm, ropy, or rubbery. Fibrosis also can happen by itself without any cysts forming. Fibrocystic breast changes are common; about one-half of all women will experience them at some point in their lives.
The lumpiness is due to small cysts or breast masses. This condition usually occurs in both breasts. Fibrocystic breasts may be tender and can cause mild to severe discomfort.