If you're noticing several lumps in both breasts, the most likely reason is a benign condition called fibrocystic change. This used to be called fibrocystic disease, but doctors now recognize it as a change that is usually related to hormonal fluctuations. Approximately half of all women will notice some fibrocystic change in their breasts over their lifetime. Fibrocystic changes are not the same as fibroadenomas, which are benign breast tumors that involve glandular and stromal breast tissues.
Fibrocystic Changes – The Most Common Benign Breast Condition:
Fibrocystic change involves lobes, ducts (glandular) and connective (stromal) breast tissue. Women of all ages can be affected by fibrocystic change, but it shows up most frequently in premenopausal women (ages 20 to 50). You're most likely to notice fibrocystic changes during your fertile years, when your hormones are cycling regularly. Fibrocystic changes can be felt in any area of your breast and may occur in one or both breasts.
Symptoms of Fibrocystic Changes:
Your menstrual cycle affects how your breasts feel and change over the course of a month. Normal fibrocystic change can cause breast pain, swelling, or thick areas. If hormones are causing these symptoms, they should decrease as you travel through your monthly cycle. If any particular lump feels much firmer than the other areas of your breast, visit your doctor for a clinical breast exam, and discuss whether imaging studies or a needle biopsy should be done to rule out breast cancer.
Two Types of Fibrocystic Changes:
Your breasts are made of many kinds of tissue, which change in response to your menstrual cycle, pregnancy hormones and breastfeeding. Doing your monthly breast self exam (BSE) helps you recognize normal changes and catch unfamiliar features. Fibrocystic changes involve fibrosis and cysts.
Fibrosis in Breast Tissues:
Fibrosis is a condition in which fibrous tissue (ligaments, scars, supportive tissue) becomes more prominent than fatty tissue. Noticeable fibrous tissue will feel rubbery, firm, or even hard (but not rocky). Having fibrosis does not raise your risk of developing breast cancer, and it doesn't need to be treated.
Cysts in Breast Tissue:
Breast cysts are sacs within the breast that are filled with fluid. These can be round or oval and will feel smooth (not bumpy). If such a lump is moveable and tender to touch, it is most likely a cyst. Cysts will show up on a mammogram or breast ultrasound, but if there is still some doubt about their nature, a needle biopsy can be done, or the fluid can be aspirated and tested to get a clear diagnosis.
Cysts may be quite small (microcysts) and can be seen only with a microscope, or may be larger enough to feel (macrocysts or gross cysts). Macrocysts can grow to one or two inches across, pressing on nearby breast tissue and causing pain. Breast cysts are most noticeable just before your monthly period begins. If cysts don't disappear on their own, you can have them aspirated (fluid removed with a needle). If you are diagnosed with breast cysts and the fluid tests come out clear, you don't need to worry about having an increased risk for breast cancer. Breast cysts are a benign (not cancerous) condition.
Cyst Self-Care Tips:
Some women may find that avoiding caffeine in food and drink may reduce the pain and swelling of breast cysts. You could try decaffeinated coffee, tea, and sodas for a couple of months, and see if that helps. Switch from chocolate to carob products, and try lowering your salt intake. Salt tends to make us retain fluid. So if you can put down the salt shaker during your period, you may experience less swelling.
American Cancer Society. Non-Cancerous Breast Conditions. Fibrocystic Changes. Revised: 09/26/2006.