The term “fibrocystic breast disease” refers to breast tissue that feels lumpy and may be painful at times. This condition is not a disease and is not harmful. Most people now refer to it as fibrocystic breast changes.

Fibrocystic breast changes are common, affecting an estimated 30% to 60% of all females, usually between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

In this article, learn what fibrocystic breast changes involve, how to get relief, and when to contact a doctor.

A person who may have fibrocystic breast disease unclasping their bra.Share on Pinterest
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A person may not need treatment if fibrocystic breast changes cause only mild discomfort. However, options are available to help people manage pain.

Drugs and medical treatment

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can provide pain relief. Acetaminophen is another option.

The authors of a 2017 research review analyzed the effectiveness of medications for breast pain, including a topical diclofenac gel, which is an NSAID. The results indicated that the gel decreased pain.

If pain is severe and continues for more than six months, a doctor may prescribe a medication such as tamoxifen, bromocriptine, or danazol. A person would need to take the medication for several months.

If a person has large cysts that cause pain, a doctor may drain the cysts.


Applying a warm compress can help ease the pain.

Warm compresses are available for purchase online. Alternatively, people can make a compress using a towel soaked in warm water or apply a hot water bottle. However, people should be sure not to make it too hot to avoid burning the skin.

How can heat and cold relieve pain? Get some tips.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy may balance hormone levels and help reduce breast pain.

A doctor may recommend starting, stopping, or adjusting the dose of birth control pills.

In one small study, researchers looked at the effect of progesterone gel on symptoms of fibrocystic breast tissue.

Using ultrasound, they measured the size and number of cysts in 50 people before therapy and during the study. The number and size of cysts decreased during progesterone gel treatment, and those who used it reported a reduction in pain. However, more research is necessary to determine whether this treatment is safe and effective.

A supportive bra

A well-fitting, supportive bra will not resolve fibrous tissue, but it may help decrease discomfort. A properly fitted bra should provide support without being too tight. In a small, older study published in 2000, 85 of 100 women experienced a reduction in breast pain after wearing a well-fitting sports bra for three months.

People who are unsure about the best bra size and type may consider seeing a bra-fitting specialist.

Find out more about bras.

Exercise and relaxation

Exercise can boost a person’s overall mental and physical health, and relaxation techniques can reduce stress. Both may help manage fibrocystic breast pain.

Activities that may help include:

Exercise can also help increase lean body mass and reduce body fat, which may help lower the risk of fibrocystic breast changes, according to a 2018 study carried out in Taiwan.

Some examples of relaxation techniques are:

Learn more about relaxation techniques.

Researchers have not yet determined whether dietary factors can affect symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes.

There are no studies that show a causal relationship between caffeine and fibrocystic breast changes. One older review, published in 2004, suggested that high caffeine consumption may worsen symptoms, although the authors noted that the studies involved were small.

There also appears to be no evidence that a low fat diet will help.


Some supplements may help decrease pain from fibrocystic breast disease.

In a 2018 study, researchers divided 94 participants with breast discomfort due to fibrocystic changes into three groups. Each group took one of the following treatments for six months:

Those who took evening primrose oil or vitamin B6 reported a decrease in pain severity at one, two, and three months of treatment. There was no difference in reported pain relief between the two supplements. These results suggest that they may be equally effective.

Research has not confirmed that evening primrose oil is effective, but a doctor may suggest it if other options do not help.

Some studies cited in a 2019 review suggest that taking 25 grams of ground flaxseed (linseed) each day or 3.2 to 4.8 mg of monk’s pepper (Vitex agnus castus) for three months may help manage breast pain that changes throughout a person’s monthly cycle.

More recently, the results of a small 2023 study with 96 participants suggested that vitamin D deficiency is more common in women with fibrocystic breast disease and may play a role in the development of the disease. Therefore, it’s possible that vitamin D supplementation may be a future treatment option. However, more studies on this topic are necessary.

People should check with a doctor before starting a new supplement, as some supplements may not be safe for everyone.

Symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease may come and go during the menstrual cycle. Symptoms may also vary from month to month.

The changes typically occur in both breasts, but lumps and pain may be worse in one breast than in the other.

Although the location can vary, people usually experience pain or discomfort in the undersides of the breasts or in the upper areas, where most of the milk glands are.

Typical symptoms include:

  • thickening and lumpiness in the breast
  • breast tenderness and pain
  • areas of fibrosis that feel rubbery, hard, or smooth to the touch
  • a feeling of heaviness in the breast
  • swelling
  • breast cysts
  • nipple discharge

Symptoms may vary during the monthly cycle as hormone levels fluctuate.

A person should seek medical advice if they notice:

  • worsening pain
  • new lumps or changes
  • dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • nipple changes, such as discharge or inverted nipples
  • warmth and redness or other changes in skin color

Fibrocystic breast changes are benign, but they share some symptoms with breast cancer. If a person experiences any new symptoms, they should consult a doctor.

Find out more about breast lumps.

Fibrocystic breast changes often develop as hormone levels fluctuate. These changes are often cyclical, which means they vary with a person’s monthly cycle. Symptoms mostly occur before the age of 50 years but can also happen after menopause.

Using estrogen and progestin treatment after menopause may increase the risk of benign breast changes by 74%, while anti-estrogen treatment may lead to a 28% reduction in benign breast disease.

After menopause, a person may experience a sharp or burning pain or soreness in one part of the breast rather than throughout the breasts. This is likely due to costochondritis, inflammation that affects the rib cage where the bone and cartilage meet. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help.

Discover more about the link between menopause and sore breasts.

Experts believe there is a link between hormones and breast changes. Breast tissue responds to fluctuating levels of hormones, especially estrogen, leading to an overgrowth of epithelial cells and a buildup of breast tissue.

People who develop fibrocystic changes may be more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle. It is common for symptoms to become more bothersome right before or during a menstrual period. Taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause may also increase the risk.

A doctor may diagnose fibrocystic breast changes after reviewing symptoms and doing a physical examination. They may ask whether a person’s symptoms change throughout the month, as some people find that symptoms become more severe just before menstruation.

During the exam, the doctor will feel each breast to check for lumps or abnormal areas. Usually, fibrocystic changes involve lumps that are not attached to the surrounding tissue. The lumps are typically moveable when a doctor palpates them.

Sometimes, a lump may feel firmer than usual or a doctor may suggest further tests to rule out another condition, such as cancer. The results of a mammogram or breast ultrasound can help them make a diagnosis. These imaging tests reveal more detail about the breast tissue.

If the doctor has concerns, they may recommend a biopsy to rule out cancer.

Is fibrocystic breast disease linked to cancer?

According to a 2019 research review, most fibrocystic breast changes do not increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Health experts are not aware of an association between the two conditions.

However, anyone can develop breast cancer, and people with specific types of breast lesions known as proliferative changes may have a higher risk.

For these reasons, everyone should follow a doctor’s recommendations for screening to improve the chances of catching any harmful changes early.

Does fibrocystic breast disease ever go away?

Hormonal fluctuations can influence fibrocystic breast changes. Symptoms may come and go during the menstrual cycle.

Fibrocystic breast changes typically become less severe with age and may improve after menopause due to decreased hormone levels.

Symptom management and regular monitoring are essential for breast health.

How can I reduce my fibrocystic breasts?

To reduce fibrocystic breast symptoms, a person may consider:

  • taking hormonal birth control
  • trying supplements such as vitamin E or evening primrose oil
  • using pain relievers and warm compresses for comfort
  • wearing supportive bras
  • practicing stress management techniques
  • maintaining a regular exercise routine

A person should always consult a healthcare professional before starting new treatments or supplements.

Do fibrocystic breasts need a biopsy?

In most cases, fibrocystic breasts do not require a biopsy because they are typically benign.

However, if there are concerning features, such as a new lump that feels different from other lumps that have occurred with fibrocystic changes, a healthcare professional may recommend that a person have a biopsy to rule out cancer.

Fibrocystic breast changes are a benign condition. They may cause discomfort, but they are unlikely to be a sign of cancer. Doctors do not know the exact cause, but hormones appear to play a key role.

Most people can get relief from over-the-counter or home remedies. If symptoms are severe, a doctor can prescribe treatment. Symptoms usually ease after menopause, but people who use hormone therapy may still experience them.

While fibrocystic breast changes are unlikely to indicate cancer, anyone who has concerns about changes in their breasts should seek medical advice. Following screening guidance for breast cancer can help identify problems early, when treatment is more effective.