Fibrocystic Disease– What Cancer is NOT
Women encounter a broad variety of breast conditions including normal changes in breast anatomy—many of which may occur during the menstrual cycle. Many women also experience generalized breast lumpiness and have been told that they have “fibrocystic breast disease.” But for 70 – 80% of these women, the condition characterized by “lumpy breasts” is commonplace, and fibrocystic breast disease can be termed more of a “condition” than a “disease.”
Generalized breast lumpiness, sometimes called fibrocystic disease, or benign breast disease, was once thought to increase the risk of breast cancer. It is now known that only a minority of such women actually have breast tissue that is at increased risk. The most common condition is “non-proliferative disease,” which accounts for 80% of these “lumps” and carries no increased risk for breast cancer. Normal features can make the breasts feel lumpy, especially in women who are very thin or have small breasts. Lumpiness may become more obvious as a woman approaches middle age and the milk-producing glandular tissue of her breasts increasingly gives way to soft, fatty tissue.
The second most common is “proliferative disease,” which increases risk one and one-half to two fold over the average women (still considered a relatively small risk). Only 4% of fibrocystic disease is classified as “proliferative disease with atypical”; or “atypical hyperplasia,” and this is associated with a four-fold increased risk, says M. M., MD, director of the Comprehensive Breast Program and a specialist in breast cancer risk.
If you have a fibrocystic condition, “lumps” may be part of your regular anatomy. However, all breasts—lumpy or not—should be examined at least annually by a physician, and any suspicious changes should be evaluated as soon as possible.
Every woman can take better care of herself and her breasts by remembering four important steps to good breast health:
- risk evaluation or identifying your risk factors for breast cancer and discussing them with your doctor
- mammography exam occurring yearly after the age of 40
- monthly breast self exam that allows you to know how your breasts normally look and feel, and
- regular checkups by your doctor for a clinical breast examination.
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