Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Fibrocystic breast changes are non-cancerous lumps or abnormalities in the breast tissue. Between 50% and 90% of women will experience benign changes in their breast tissue during their lifetime, with 30s and 40s being the most common age of occurrence.
It is important for women who notice changes in their breast tissue to let their doctor know right away so that breast cancer or another serious disease can be ruled out.
Symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes include:
- Tenderness in both breasts
- Sense of fullness
- Pain that is generally worse before the menstrual period and relieved within a few days of the onset of the menstrual period
- Breast lumps that are tender, can be moved easily, may be present symmetrically in both breasts, and may change in size with the menstrual cycle
- Nipple discharge may occur in up to 15% of women
Natural interventions that can help ease symptoms and reduce incidence include vitamin E, plant lignans, and chasteberry (also known as Vitex agnus-castus).
Several risk factors promote fibrocystic breast changes:
- Peak occurrence in 30s and 40s
- Alcohol intake during adolescence and early adulthood
Certain tests beyond breast self-exam, clinical exam or mammography may be necessary to distinguish benign breast changes from breast cancer:
- Breast biopsy, including fine needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, image-guided biopsy, or surgical biopsy
- Near-infrared imaging with contrast since cancerous breast tissue is more likely to absorb contrast media than benign breast tissue
Conventional Medical Treatments:
Drugs that may address the symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen
- Medications that influence hormones, including oral contraceptives, cabergoline, tamoxifen, and danazol
- Ormeloxifene, currently used as an oral contraceptive primarily in India
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes:
- Dietary fiber for improved estrogen metabolism
- Increased fruit and vegetable intake; higher citrus fruit consumption was associated with 57% reduced odds, and higher fruit (other than citrus) with 65% reduced odds
- A fiber-rich, plant-based diet high in healthy fats from sources such as olive oil and fish, and low in red meat
- Chasteberry: Chasteberry, also known as Vitex agnus-castus, is commonly used for breast pain, especially premenstrual breast tenderness.
- Plant lignans: Lignans are compounds present in a variety of plant foods, with high concentrations found in flaxseeds and sesame seeds, as well as in certain plant extracts such as Norway spruce. Women who consumed the most food sources of lignans were 52% less likely to have benign breast changes than those with the lowest consumption of these foods.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E was shown to be effective in reducing the most severe premenstrual breast pain in a clinical trial.
- Evening primose oil/gamma-linolenic acid (GLA): Evening primrose oil, which contains GLA, was found to reduce the most severe premenstrual breast pain when taken at a daily dose of 3 g for six months.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Breast pain intensity was reduced by about 42% in women given omega-3 fatty acids after two menstrual cycles, while women who did not receive the omega-3 supplement experienced a reduction of only about 17%.