If you hear someone say you have fibrocystic breasts, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a disease. Many times the term is used as a description of how your breasts feel on physical exam. Fibrocystic is a more sophisticated word than “lumpy,” but that’s pretty much what it means. Fibrocystic breasts will feel more lumpy or thick in certain areas, and those areas may be tender. You may notice the lumpiness when you do your monthly breast exams (you are doing those, right?) or your doctor may find it on your yearly physical. The other way the term can be used is to describe breasts that have multiple discrete cysts or benign, noncancerous fluid collections which will feel like pea-size or larger bumps in the breast.
What does this mean for me?
If you have lumpy-bumpy breasts, it may be harder to tell what’s what on your monthly breast self-exams. Any change that stays around for a month should prompt a trip to the doctor. This sound simple but is so important: know your body, so you can tell when something isn’t the way it usually is! You MUST be an advocate for your own health.
Likewise, your lumpiness may also make your health care provider’s job more difficult – knowing you always have lumpiness or thickening in one part of your breast will be helpful for them to know when they do your breast exam.
How do fibrocystic breasts look on breast imaging?
When we image your breasts with a mammogram, your breast tissue may look completely normal – lumpy breasts can be completely fatty, dense or any range in between. The way your breasts feel on exam does not correlate well with how they image! If there is a discrete area of lumpiness that hangs around, your doctor may want that area evaluated. We might be asked to do a diagnostic mammogram in those cases and would most likely follow that with an ultrasound. We may put a marker on the breast at the site of concern that will show up on the mammogram. We can look right where you are feeling with ultrasound as well, and can tell if what you are feeling looks like normal tissue or something else, like a cyst or fluid collection.
The 3 key things to keep in mind are to 1) know your own “normal,” 2) advocate for your own health, and 3) know that fibrocystic is just a description of breast tissue, not a disease.
Image credit: Palouse hills northeast of Walla Walla by Lynn Suckow; Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
Originally posted 7/1/13 on mammographykc.com.