By Dr. Kathleen Ruddy

elderly woman on trainCystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that typically affects the lungs, liver, and intestines, as well as the pancreas. It causes thick mucus secretions. While it typically affects internal organs, it can also appear in the breasts. If you notice lumps in your breasts, it may be a benign condition known as fibrocystic change. You may wonder if this means you are at risk of breast cancer. Lumps or cysts in your breasts can be a risk factor and indicator for breast cancer. Understanding breast tissue and how cystic fibrosis can affect breast health is important to comprehend how to reduce your chances of breast cancer.

What is Fibrocystic Change

Fibrocystic change affects the breast tissue, ducts, and lobes of the breast. It can affect women of all ages but is most common in women ages 20 through 50. You may feel lumps that fluctuate over time as they may change depending on your age, hormones, and menstrual cycle. Women who suffer from fibrocystic change may experience breast pain, swelling, or thick areas of the breast. The lumps should decrease throughout the month, so any lumps that feel firmer than other areas of the breast may be a symptom of breast cancer, not fibrocystic change, and should be seen by a doctor.

Types of Fibrocystic Changes

There are two types of fibrocystic changes: fibrosis in breast tissue and cysts in breast tissue. Fibrosis is when breast tissue is more prominent than fatty tissue and can feel rubbery, hard, or firmer than other tissue in the breast. It is benign and not a risk factor for breast cancer. Cysts in breast tissue are fluid-filled sacs within the breast. They are typically tender to touch and may move under the skin. They show up on a mammogram and are typically distinguishable from tumors, although they may need to be biopsied if there is a reason for concern. Breast cysts are benign and also not a risk factor for breast cancer.


Fibrocystic changes affect between 30 and 60 percent of women worldwide. However, it affects about 50 percent of women who are of childbearing age. Childbearing age is anywhere between 15 and 40 years old.

Treating Cysts in the Breast

Patient and Doctor

Even though fibrosis of the breast is not dangerous, it can be painful. Both fibrosis and cysts in breast tissue can be tender, swollen, and cause a lot of discomfort. In order to minimize the effects of the cysts, many women avoid caffeine which has been known to increase the swelling of the cysts. Chocolate and salt can also exacerbate symptoms, so reducing the intake of these foods may make you feel better. Salt tends to make the body retain fluid which can irritate swollen cysts and breast tissue further. Overall, diet and exercise play the most important roles in your life. Make sure discuss with your doctor how to naturally minimize the effects of fibrosis of the breasts.

Causes of Fibrocystic Changes

The causes of fibrocystic changes are not widely known. While they are linked to cystic fibrosis, many women experience fibrosis of the breasts or cysts. It is more generally tied to hormone levels and the hormonal variations of a woman’s menstrual cycle. This is why it is more commonly found in women who are of age to bear children. Variants of this diagnosis may be linked to genetic anomalies as well.

The prevalence of fibrocystic changes in the breast tissue illustrate how a lump in the breast does not necessarily mean breast cancer. Fibrocystic changes can encompass many symptoms and causes, but all are benign and thus harmless as well. Understanding breast tissue and the risk factors for breast cancer allow you to fully take charge of your own health. It is always wise to be wary of any lumps or growths in the breast. Whether they are caused by cystic fibrosis, fibrocystic changes, or breast cancer, getting them tested assures long-term health and a happy worry-free life.


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