A Tender Subject No Longer


While breast pain can be uncomfortable, tenderness from fibrocystic breast tissue is not cause for alarm. In fact, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, roughly 50 percent of women will experience the condition before menopause.


Fibrocystic breast tissue was once considered a disease. Now, the National Cancer Institute defines it as a benign change occurring in the breast tissue. The change involves the development of fluid-filled cysts and scar-like tissue within the breast, which can create:

  • Pain in both breasts or under the arms
  • Swelling or heaviness
  • Lumps or thicker tissue

Though a specific cause for fibrocystic breast changes is unknown, the National Institutes of Health links the condition to a rise in reproductive hormones, such as estrogen, during a woman’s period.

The varying hormone levels means that lumps or the rope-like feel of fibrous tissue may increase and decrease during the monthly cycle. The cysts typically shift under fingertip pressure.

Remedies for Relief

In diagnosing fibrocystic breast changes, doctors first rely on a clinical breast exam. Additional imaging tests for a more detailed look at the tissue may include a mammogram or, for women younger than age 30, an ultrasound. In some cases, a woman may also undergo an outpatient procedure called a fine-needle aspiration, during which her doctor extracts fluid from the cyst and can collapse it to reduce pain.

While severe symptoms can be alleviated with birth control pills or other prescribed hormones, the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends the following home remedies:

  1. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain relief medicine
  2. A routine of heat or ice therapy on the breast
  3. Wearing a fitted, supportive bra or a sports bra

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have fibrocystic breast tissue.

Breast health starts with breast awareness, and breast awareness starts with breast self-exams. While regular breast self-exams are no longer recommended by the American Cancer Society (ACS), the ACS does say that women should be familiar with their breasts so they can easily notice changes if they develop. The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that adult women make the exam a monthly practice.

The exam can be completed in the shower or lying down on a pillow.

After putting one arm behind her head, a woman should check the breast and arm pit area by moving her fingers circularly over the skin with light, medium and firm pressure. She can then repeat the process on the other side. She should look for any lumps, knots or thickened tissue, especially those areas that do not shift under her touch.

In addition, women should examine their breasts and nipples in the mirror, noting any areas of contouring, puckering or swelling.

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