Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Almost three-quarters of women have been told by a healthcare provider that they have “fibrocystic disease,” a diagnosis based on finding breast pain, cysts, and noncancerous lumpy areas in their breasts. This diagnosis seemed to be rampant about two decades ago. But a study by the National Cancer Association Consensus Committee discovered that about 80% of what is called “fibrocystic disease” is actually normal changes in breast anatomy and is NOT associated with breast cancer, says Chris B, MD, author of “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom.”
The term has been used to describe just about any kind of breast thickening, tenderness, lumpiness or other symptoms. But these are variations of normal breasts, in fact, fibrocystic “disease” is clearly not a disease, says Northrup. True “fibrocystic changes” are actually limited to a very small number of these conditions and can only be identified by a pathologist examining breast tissue. Most women with breast cysts do not have an increased risk of developing breast cancer and need only to have the cysts treated.
Any lump or thickening in the breast, however, should certainly be checked by your physician. And monthly breast self-examination (starting in your 20s) coupled with mammography is not only the best way to find a lump early, but also the best way to learn what “normal” means in terms of your own breasts. Annual examination by your physician and mammography by age 40, according to the American Cancer Society, are strongly advised for prevention of breast cancer.
Be sure to see your physician if you have the following symptoms. While they don’t necessarily indicate cancer, they should be evaluated:
- A lump that feels distinctly different from other breast tissue or that doesn’t go away.
- Swelling that doesn’t go away.
- Puckering or dimpling of the skin.
- Scaly skin around the nipple.
- Changes in the shape of the breast.
- Changes in the nipple, such as turning inward or nipple discharge.
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