What is scattered fibroglandular breast tissue?
This type of breast tissue mix may cause breasts to feel lumpy or painful. This is due to the fact that women with this condition are prone to developing benign lumps or cysts, which can cause the pain.
Women with scattered fibroglandular tissue are unlikely to experience any pain, but may developed benign lumps or cysts.
Scattered fibroglandular breast tissue is sometimes referred to as scattered fibroglandular breast tissue disease.
This is not so much a disease as a condition. Many doctors are now recognizing that calling this condition a disease is confusing for the following reasons:
- most women are unlikely to experience any pain or symptoms
- many women experience changes in breast composition over time
- many women have lumps in their breasts that are benign
A woman's breast composition is determined by the amount of dense and non-dense tissue she has, which in turn causes lumps.
Women diagnosed with scattered fibroglandular breast tissue may have benign (non-cancerous) lumps or cysts in one or both of their breasts. In addition, they may experience pain that may be a result of these lumps or cysts.
If a woman finds a lump, she should see her doctor to get further screening to rule out any likelihood of cancer being the cause.
Understanding scattered fibroglandular breast tissue
A woman's breast is composed of:
- milk ducts
- fibrous tissue
The density of women's breasts is categorized as:
- High-density: A high proportion of fibrous and glandular tissue to fatty tissue.
- Lower-density: A higher portions of fatty to fibrous tissue.
- Scattered fibroglandular: Areas of fibrous tissue surrounded by areas of fatty tissue.
The mixed tissue may result in women noticing lumps in their breasts. Fibroglandular breast tissue may include the following components:
- Cysts: Fluid-filled round or oval sacs.
- Fibrosis: Prominent scar-like fibrous tissue.
- Overgrowth of cells: In the lining of the milk ducts or milk-producing tissues.
- Adenosis: Enlarged breast lobules.
Breast density varies between individuals, from a relatively low percentage of glandular tissue to almost all glandular tissue.
Image credit: Dr Mark Holland, Radiopaedia.org, from the case rID: 24591.
Women's breasts vary in density between individuals. How dense each breast is depends on its overall composition, as mentioned above.
Doctors have defined four basic categories of breast density, as follows:
- Breast density category A: Breasts that are made up almost entirely of fatty tissue. This is one of the less common categories.
- Breast density category B: Scattered areas of fibroglandular density in an otherwise non-dense breast. This is one of the two most common categories found on mammograms.
- Breast density category C: Mammogram results indicate most of the breast consists of dense tissue with small areas of non-dense tissue. More common than category A or D.
- Breast density category D: Extremely dense breast tissue with minimal fatty tissue. One of the more uncommon categories. Most likely category to skew a mammogram as identifying tumors is difficult.
Women with generally higher density breasts are more susceptible to breast cancer than those with lower density breasts.
It is important for all women to know their breast composition and what it means to their overall breast health and risk of cancer.
The exact cause of scattered fibroglandular breast tissue disease is not known currently.
Some researchers believe that reproductive hormones may be to blame for periods of inflammation of the breasts. During a menstrual cycle, fluctuating levels of hormones such as estrogen can cause breast discomfort.
At times, these can cause lumps that are tender, swollen, and sore before the menstrual cycle. These symptoms usually clear up after the cycle completes.
Different conditions affect whether or not a women is likely to have scattered fibroglandular breast tissue. These include:
- Family history: If there is a family history of dense breast tissue or scattered fibroglandular breast tissue.
- Menopause status: Women have a higher level of estrogen before the menopause, which may cause fibroglandular tissue.
- Age: Women over 60 generally have less dense breasts than younger women, making it less likely they will have fibroglandular breast tissue as they age.
- Medication: Certain medications may increase the risk for scattered fibroglandular breast tissue and can affect breast density.
Getting a mammogram is the best way to categorize breast density and determine if a woman has scattered fibroglandular breast tissue.
The best way to diagnose a woman as having scattered fibroglandular breast tissue is through a mammogram. The mammogram results help categorize the woman's breast density.
Some women with scattered fibroglandular breast tissue may worry that the lumps they feel could be cancerous. Only a doctor can determine if a lump is:
- a benign tumor
- a cyst
- a cancer
For example, if the lump feels like a cyst, a doctor may try to aspirate it with a thin needle that drains the fluid from it.
In cases where it fails to drain or the lump does not feel like a cyst, the doctor will perform a biopsy to test the lump for cancer.
There is little that is directly done to the breasts to treat them for scattered fibroglandular breast tissue disease. The primary concern is making sure that any lumps that are discovered are not cancerous.
In cases where the lumps are painful, over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce the pain. Additionally, women who smoke or consume large quantities of caffeine may find that lumps reduce when they quit or cut back.
Some women with fibroglandular breast tissue are concerned about the risk of developing breast cancer. The best way to manage this fear is to have routine screenings to help catch a cancerous growth as soon as possible.
The condition known as scattered fibroglandular breast tissue is not, of itself, dangerous but can cause painful or swollen breasts primarily around the menstrual cycle.
However, the biggest concern for women with scattered fibroglandular breast tissue disease is the worry of cancer.
In general, the higher the breast density, the more at risk the woman is of developing breast cancer. As such, women with naturally lumpy breasts may wish to arrange examinations more frequently and should be aware when new lumps form.