Both fibrocystic breast disease and breast cancer are characterized by lumps or growths in the breast tissue. The difference between the two conditions is that while breast cancer is malignant, fibrocystic breast disease is benign. For this reason, the condition is also known as benign breast disease. While the condition may cause discomfort, it will not develop into cancer. However, a woman with fibrocystic breast disease may have difficulty detecting a malignant tumor if one develops. As a result, women with fibrocystic breast disease must be diligent about performing home breast examinations.
The precise cause of fibrocystic breast disease is unknown. It most often strikes women who have a family history of the condition and women of menstruating age. Because fibrocystic breast disease often disappears during menopause, a connection is often made between the condition and ovarian hormones.
Signs and Symptoms
- Breast tenderness and pain, which may subside after menstruation
- Masses under the skin of the breast
- Breast engorgement
Conventional Medical Treatment
Since the symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease are similar to those of breast cancer, see your gynecologist immediately if you feel a lump or experience nipple discharge. Your doctor will conduct a physical examination of the affected area, feeling for lumps and checking for discharge. A mammography or ultrasonography may also be necessary to confirm diagnosis. To determine whether lumps are benign or cancerous, your doctor inserts a needle into the area and takes a tissue core sample for further examination. Thermography is a new method of testing that views the heat emitted by targeted regions of the body. While its results are extremely accurate, this diagnostic method is not yet widespread in use.
If you are diagnosed with fibrocystic breast disease, treatment usually includes analgesics or prescription painkillers to ease discomfort. Your doctor also may advise you to wear a supportive braeven while sleeping-to help reduce pain. If the lumps are extremely painful or increase in size, surgical removal is also an option.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
Experts agree that caffeine and dairy products increase breast tenderness and the lumps associated with fibrocystic breasts; so eliminate or limit consumption of these foods.
A diet high in fresh vegetables and low in red meat is believed to be most beneficial for this condition. An iodine deficiency can be corrected by adding iodine-rich seaweeds, such as wakame or kombu, to soups.
Daily recommendations for a supplemental program:
- vitamin E (600 to 800 lU)
- mixed carotenoid formula (50,000 lU)
- evening primrose oil (follow directions on package)
- zinc (15 to 30 mg)
- vitamin B6 (75 to 100 mg)
- flaxseed oil (2 tbsp)
- vitamin C (1500 mg)
- folic acid (400 mcg)
- iodine (500 mcg)
- choline (500 to 1000 mg)
- methionine (500 to 1000 mg)
Ayurveda considers fibrocystic breasts a kapha condition in which excess kapha builds up, causes congestion, and leads to the development of lumpy, tender tissue. To relieve discomfort and prevent future occurrences, Ayurvedic practitioners often advise gentle massage with warm water and soap and a kapha-reducing diet.
A blend of herbs may help relieve the tenderness associated with fibrocystic breasts. Herbs for the blend include yellow dock root, dandelion root, burdock root, ginger powder, dong quai, astragalus, licorice root, chaste berry, and pau d’arco. Simmer up to 6 tablespoons of the blend in a quart of water for 20 minutes. Let stand for another 20 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth. Drink 1 cup several times a day for 5 days, take a 2-day break, then repeat. Use for no longer than 3 months.
Alternatively, you might try infusions of any of the following herbs: echinacea, goldenseal, mullein, pau d’arco, or red clover. Note: Use goldenseal for no more than a week at a time, and avoid it altogether if you are allergic to ragweed.
Some herbalists also suggest poke root or sage poultices to ease the soreness.
Fibrocystic breast disease may respond to homeopathic treatment. However, the selection of a remedy-more than one is available-depends on your symptoms and the stage of the condition. Don’t try treating this disorder yourself. See a homeopathic professional
Contrast therapy (alternate applications of hot and cool moist compresses) can bring welcome relief to tender, sore breasts. Apply for 3 to 5 minutes once a day.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture can help lessen the pain that often characterizes fibrocystic breast disease. Acupoints commonly used in this treatment include Liver, Stomach, Conception Vessel, Small Intestine, and Gallbladder.
Acupressure In addition to massaging the breasts themselves, Conception Vessel, Bladder, and acupoints located in the armpit also may be involved in the treatment of fibrocystic breast disease.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Chinese herbs are often used to dispel benign cysts and alleviate any discomfort brought on by fibrocystic breast disease. Formulas used to combat fibrocystic breast pain are Bupleurum and Tang Gui, and Bupleurum Sedative Pills.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga’s ability to help you relax can lessen some of the discomfort associated with tender, lumpy breasts. Try these poses: Locust, Bow, Boast, Spinal Twist, or Shoulder Stand.