What is called fibrocystic breast disease (formerly called cystic mastitis) probably is not a disease at all; in ordinary terms it is just “lumpy bumpy breasts.” In fact about 70 percent of women have fibrocystic breast changes. These lumps, which are fluid-hilled sacs, may be large enough to feel or they may be microscopic in size. The breasts may be tender or sore, especially before menstrual periods.

Is fibrocystic breast disease dangerous?

No, hbrocystic breast disease is not dangerous. It does not turn into cancer, although it can make cancer more difficult to discover, by making the breasts difficult for you or your caregiver to examine. Thus it may lead to unnecessary breast biopsies.

Are there self-help measures for fibrocystic breasts?

There are a few simple things that many women have found helpful. One is avoiding caffeine, which seems to stimulate fibrocystic changes. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, some other soft drinks, and some painkillers.

Another measure is vitamin E, taken in a dosage no larger than 400-800 units daily. Vitamin E is beneficial to the body in many ways, but realize that it does not prevent breast cancer because it does not prevent the stimulation of breast tissue by a woman’s own hormones. Vitamin B6, taken in moderate or small doses of 100-200 mg daily, has been found helpful by some women, as has evening primrose oil, of which the usual dose is two 500-unit capsules daily (1,000 units total).

The published scientific literature on fibrocystic breast disease has not been convincing as to the effectiveness of these self-help remedies. Initial studies showed that they worked well, but later studies often said the opposite. All we know is that women do report them to be helpful, and these measures certainly have allowed many women to avoid unnecessary breast biopsies.

Self-Help for Fibrocystic Breasts

The vast number of breast lumps are caused by benign fibrocystic changes. If you notice such changes in your breasts, your doctor may recommend the following:

1. Decaffeinate your diet: no coffee, tea, chocolate, cola drinks, or other caffeinated beverages.

2. Take 400-800 units of vitamin E daily.

3. Take 100-200 mg of vitamin B6 daily.

4. Take two capsules of evening primrose oil daily.

Continue this plan through your next menstrual cycle. If at the end of that period the lump is no better, call your doctor for an evaluation. Nothing life-threatening can happen in the three weeks you are using self-help measures to see whether your breast lump or lumps disappear.

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