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Health Protocols

Fibrocystic Breast Changes

Introduction

Fibrocystic breast changes are non-cancerous (benign) lumps or abnormalities in the breast tissue. Fibrocystic breasts are very common: estimates suggest that between 50% and 90% of all women will experience benign changes in their breast tissue during their lifetime (Jones 2011). In fact, most doctors no longer use the term "fibrocystic breast disease" because the condition typically does not require urgent action (Alvero 2015; Jones 2011; Mayo Clinic 2013a).

Some types of fibrocystic breast changes are associated with a small increase in breast cancer risk, particularly when there is a family history of breast cancer. However, fibrocystic changes are often not associated with an increased risk of breast cancer (Tamimi 2010; Sugg 2014; Guray 2006). Importantly, women who do notice changes in their breast tissue should let their doctor know right away so breast cancer or another serious disease can be ruled out (Jones 2011; Alvero 2015).

Physicians typically use imaging tests followed by biopsy studies to evaluate breast masses for the presence of cancer. If changes in a woman's breast tissue are determined to be benign and do not cause symptoms, then no treatment is necessary. If breast changes cause mild-to-moderate pain or discomfort, then over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help, but these drugs are not without side effects (ACR 2012). For women whose symptoms are more severe, drugs that alter hormonal activity may be used to relieve pain, but these may have side effects (Alvero 2015; Jones 2011; Sugg 2014). Less commonly, symptomatic breast changes may be due to an infection, in which case antibiotics can be used (Jones 2011).

Fortunately, there are several actions women can take on their own that may help ease symptoms caused by fibrocystic breast changes and reduce the incidence of these conditions. For example, increasing intake of dietary fiber is believed to decrease the incidence of benign breast conditions (Jones 2011). Several natural interventions may also be of benefit, including vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, plant lignans, and chasteberry (also known as Vitex agnus-castus) (Vaziri 2014; Jones 2011; Altern Med Rev 2009).

Hormonal imbalances are generally thought to underlie fibrocystic breast changes. Specifically, estrogen excess, inadequate progesterone, or abnormal metabolism of these hormones appear to contribute to benign changes in breast tissue (Jones 2011). Given the important role of hormones in fibrocystic breast changes, women are also encouraged to read the Female Hormone Restoration protocol.