What is fibrocystic breast disease?
To understand the causes and the pathology of fibrocystic breast disease, one must first understand the structure of the normal female breast. The breast consists of mainly three types of tissues- the glandular tissue which secretes milk after delivery, the connective tissue which forms the framework of the breast and fatty or adipose tissue. The breast is controlled and influenced by various chemicals (hormones) released into the blood from various organs. These include oestrogen and progesterone from the ovary, as well as hormones like thyroxin from the thyroid, growth hormone, prolactin and insulin. A complex interaction between these various hormones controls breast tissue and function. During the menstrual cycle, these hormones – mainly oestrogen and progesterone – cause both uterus and breast to undergo changes preparing the woman for pregnancy. However, when pregnancy does not occur, the uterus undergoes menstrual bleeding with resultant sloughing off or shedding of its inner lining. Similarly in the breast, the glandular and fatty tissues as well as blood vessels multiply in preparation for pregnancy. This causes a feeling of fullness in the breasts. When menstruation takes place, these tissues undergo destruction of the excess cells that have accumulated within the breast. Certain so called “scavenger cells” then remove this dead and discarded material from the breast.
This process of cell death (and the inflammatory responses that follow) is repeated during each menstrual cycle causing a repeated collection of unneeded tissue and material within the breast resulting in both fibrous (scar tissue formation) and cystic changes (fluid filled spaces) within the breast. The degree of efficiency of this process varies for each woman and it is through this process that the symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease can be created.
Fibrocystic breast conditions vary from simply cystic changes and the formation of scar tissue (called fibrosis) build up to formation of atypical cells (causing a benign tumour, that is non cancerous). Usually the changes commonly seen are a combination of the first two (scar tissue and cystic changes). However, many women show no significant changes on histo-pathological study (microscopic examination of biopsy tissue). Cystic changes vary from microscopic cysts (fluid collections within the glands) to large macroscopic collections (larger visible or palpable cysts). However, it must be emphasized that as minute cysts multiply they may form a larger mass or lump consisting completely of these microscopic cysts and thus can be felt on palpation (physical examination of the breast). Formation of atypical or abnormal cells within the glandular tissue or the ducts of the breast are the result of long standing fibrocystic breast disease. Here, there is proliferation of abnormal cells resulting in breast lumpiness.
This is usually an issue for women between the ages 30 to 50, where they complain of pain and lumpiness in the breasts usually associated with menses. Physical examination and imaging tests, like ultrasound, may show no abnormality. This condition is historically called fibrocystic breast disease.
This condition affects about 60% of women and seems to disappear after menopause. (It is important to note that this is not a cancerous condition).
The main symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease are pain and tenderness (painful on touching) of the breasts, with a lumpy feel often present. Some women complain of a dull ache with itching or fullness of the breasts. These symptoms all are exacerbated at the onset of menstrual periods and subside within a short period.
The woman may feel lumps that are rubbery and these change shape on pressure. These lumps are usually most common in the part of the breast close to the arm pits. The lumps in the fibrocystic breast are free from underlying or overlying tissues, thus being freely mobile. (This is one of the differentiating aspects of fibrocystic beasts and tumours). Also they are smooth and rounded in nature. Some women also complain of severe pain on touching.
Treatment with Natural Therapies
Treatment as we always point out will vary with each individual. For example, some studies indicate that in some individuals Fibrocystic Breast Disease may occur as a result of Iodine deficiency and supplemental Iodine may reverse Fibrocystic Breast Disease where the underlying cause of Fibrocystic Breast Disease is Iodine deficiency. In women who experience ore menstrual symptoms, the inclusion of Vitamin B6. There are a number of herbs and supplements that are reputed to be effective in this condition. As always it is of great importance to ensure the quality and strength of these herbs are the best available and the dosage and frequency of taking these herbs are appropriate for each individual case. This includes the individual’s weight as well as the durations and severity of symptoms.
Dietary changes are also important, including the reduction in consumption of dietary fats.
• Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Reduce your salt intake.
• Avoid sweets, particularly chocolates.
• Consume less animal products and more fruit and vegetables, which assist in the anti inflammatory process that helps this condition.
• Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, cola drinks etc)
• Consume good quantities of salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring for their omega 3 content.
The above are some points that can be helpful. Your health practitioner would be able to put together a care plan for you that is the most effective according to your individual needs.