Scattered fibroglandular breast tissue is a benign or noncancerous condition that can cause one or both breasts to feel lumpy. It can be painful if cysts develop.

Female breasts contain fibrous and fatty tissue. The proportions vary between individuals.

Women with a high proportion of fibrous connective tissue and glandular tissue to fatty tissue have high density breasts. Those with a high proportion of fatty tissue have low density breasts.

Breasts with scattered fibroglandular tissue contain both fibrous and fatty tissue. Around 40% of women have this type of breast tissue, according to the National Cancer Institute.

People may notice lumpiness and discomfort at certain times of life and during the monthly cycle, for example, around menstruation. As people age, the proportion of fatty tissue may increase. Hormonal fluctuations may affect breast density over time.

While most breast lumps are not cancerous, anyone who finds a lump should see their doctor for further screening to rule out the likelihood of cancer.

a Nurse with young women having a mammography to check for scattered fibroglandular breast tissue Share on Pinterest
A mammogram can show what kind of breast tissue a person has.

Breasts vary in density between individuals and over time.

A mammogram can give information about the density and composition of a breast.

Breast tissue can be:

Low density tissue: The breast contains mostly fatty tissue. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), around 10% of women in the United States have this kind of breast tissue. Studies suggest that women whose breasts contain mostly fatty tissue have a lower risk of breast cancer than those with other types.

Dense or extremely dense tissue: The breast tissue is dense throughout. The FDA also state that around 50% of women in the U.S. have dense breasts. People with dense breasts may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than those with low density breasts.

Scattered fibroglandular tissue: The breast combines fatty and scattered fibroglandular tissue. FDA statistics suggest that 40% of women in the U.S. have this kind of tissue. Women with this type of tissue have a higher risk of breast cancer than those with low-density breasts, but a lower risk compared with those who have high density breasts.

Features of scattered fibroglandular breast tissue may include:

  • lumps in the breasts
  • cysts, which are fluid-filled round or oval sacs
  • fibrosis, or prominent scar-like fibrous tissue
  • an overgrowth of cells in the lining of the milk ducts or milk-producing tissues
  • enlarged breast lobules, or adenosis

Knowing how the breasts feel and how they change throughout the monthly cycle can help a person to know whether unusual changes are occurring and when to seek medical advice.

If the same changes happen every month, they are unlikely to be a cause of concern. Anyone who notices a new lump or a change that does not fluctuate over a month should consider seeing a doctor for an exam.

It is also worth remembering that lumps in the breast are often not due to breast cancer.

There are many types of breast lump, including cysts and fibroadenomas. Find out more about how to recognize then and what to do if you find one.

The reasons why some people have scattered fibroglandular breast tissue and others do not remain unclear.

One factor may be the presence and fluctuation of reproductive hormones, such as estrogen. Rising and falling estrogen levels rise during the menstrual cycle may lead to breast changes and discomfort.

Lumps that are tender, swollen, and sore may appear before menstruation but usually disappear after menstruation.

People with a family history of dense breast tissue or scattered fibroglandular breast tissue are more likely to have it.

With age, the breasts tend to become less dense. The proportion of fat to fibrous tissue will change as a result, and there will be less fibroglandular breast tissue.

A mammogram can help diagnose scattered fibroglandular breast tissue. The mammogram will show if any lumps are present, but it cannot show what sort of lump they are.

Only a biopsy can determine whether a lump is cancerous or not.

During a biopsy, a doctor will draw off some tissue or fluid from the breast for testing in a laboratory. This will show whether a lump is cancerous, a cyst, or another benign lump.

If a biopsy reveals cancer, the doctor will recommend further treatment.

What does a breast biopsy involve? Learn more here.

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OTC medications may help relieve any pain from scattered fibroglandular breast tissue.

Scattered fibroglandular breast tissue is not a disease, and it does not need treatment.

If pain occurs, over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, may help relieve symptoms.

Those who smoke or consume large quantities of caffeine may find that lumps reduce when they quit or cut back.

Having fibroglandular breast tissue does not increase the risk of developing breast cancer, but it may make changes harder to spot.

The American College of Physicians recommend that women start speaking to their doctor about screening from the age of 40 years. They also encourage those with an average risk of breast cancer to have a mammogram every 2 years from the age of 50–74 years.

Other organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, have different guidelines.

A doctor will recommend a screening plan for the individual, depending on their circumstances.

Scattered fibroglandular breast tissue is a common phenomenon that can cause painful or swollen breasts at certain times during the menstrual cycle.

It is not cancer and does not usually pose a health problem, but having lumps in the breast can increase anxiety about cancer.

A person who is familiar with their breasts and how they vary over time will be able to notice any changes that may need attention.

Following the doctor's advice on screening can increase the chance of getting an early diagnosis and prompt treatment should a problem arise.

Q:

I have lumpy breasts with cysts. Can these become cancerous?

A:

It’s important to understand that attributing any kind of cancer risk varies from individual to individual. If you notice any change from your original breasts, then it’s worth talking to your doctor and getting more information or a detailed exam.

Most doctors and current guidelines recommend that men and women develop “breast awareness,” so that they can detect any changes as early as possible. In general, people will have a favorable outlook if a doctor diagnoses and treats the cancer early.

Christina Chun, MPH Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.