Fibrocystic Breast Disease: Causes and Sequelae

Fibrocystic Breast Disease: Causes and Sequelae
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  • 0:02 Fibrocystic Breast Disease
  • 0:39 Signs & Symptoms
  • 2:46 Why Does FCD Occur?
  • 4:26 Diagnosis & Treatment
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Fibrocystic breast disease isn't a disease at all. Or is it? Is it the same thing as breast cancer, or does it lead to breast cancer? You'll learn the answers to those questions and more in this lesson.

Fibrocystic Breast Disease

Finding a lump or bump - no matter how small - on any part of the body is almost always a cause for at least some concern. It may be nothing, but you just can't always be sure. Discovering a lump in your breast is alarming, to say the least. Breast cancer is the first thing that comes to mind, doesn't it? And that's nothing to mess around with. But I'll put you at ease, at least for this lesson, as we'll be discussing a different kind of issue, a non-cancerous condition that results in lumps in the breasts. It's called fibrocystic breast disease (FCD).

Signs and Symptoms of FCD

Fibrocystic breast disease is sometimes called a 'nondisease' in medical lingo, although some professionals don't like using this term for a few good reasons. However, the reason this lingo is used sometimes is because more than half of women aged 20-50 are expected to develop this condition before menopause. Changes associated with this condition are considered normal in healthy breasts, and, therefore, it's not actually deemed to be a true disease process. That's why the term 'fibrocystic breast condition (FCC)' is sometimes used instead.

Nevertheless, women can experience signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breasts, such as lumps or thickened areas in both breasts. It's unusual for this condition to have lumps in only one breast. Therefore, this is most often a bilateral condition, one that is affecting both sides at once. Such changes typically occur in the upper, outer (near the armpit) area of the breast. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Fluctuations in the size of the lumps
  • Dark brown or green discharge from the nipple (no blood should be present in the discharge, by the way)
  • Breast pain and tenderness
  • Variations in size and pain during the menstrual cycle

Okay, I'll tell you one reason, with all of that in mind, why some professionals prefer to not call this a 'nondisease.' If you were a woman (and maybe you are) and you had everything I just described, would you feel good if a term like 'nondisease' was used? While some patients may be relieved to know it's truly not a disease in the medical and scientific sense, others consider it psychologically and emotionally offensive and kind of a brush-off of their true suffering and problems if it's termed anything but a disease. But that's neither here nor there.

Why Does FCD Occur?

Anyways, we don't fully understand the cause of fibrocystic breast changes. We do have some important clues, though. First of all, this condition rarely affects women after menopause unless they are on hormone (estrogen) therapy. Another clue is that the signs and symptoms fluctuate with the menstrual cycle. Symptoms more commonly appear or worsen just before a woman's menstrual period.

So, what you should gather from that is that FCD is at least partially and greatly influenced by hormones and their constant fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, especially of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. All of these hormones and their fluctuations can cause changes, including:

  • Fibrosis, a term that refers to scar tissue formation
  • The appearance of cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs
  • Hyperplasia, or overgrowth of cells, that line the milk glands or ducts

Fibrocystic breast disease is typically not linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer, although some forms of changes in the breasts during this condition, like atypical hyperplasia, may slightly increase the chances of developing breast cancer. Speaking of risks, it seems that women with the following history are at higher risk for developing FCD:

  • Never having a child
  • Having their first child at age 30 or later
  • Starting menstruation at an early age

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