Fibrocystic breast disease or painful lumps in the breast is a non- cancerous condition wherein the lumps move freely within the breast tissue creating pain and discomfort in one or both breasts.
Lumps are formed due to small cysts in the breast which are filled with fluid and enlarge pre-menstrually in response to hormonal changes during this time. The breast tissue is very sensitive to hormonal changes and the cysts can enlarge and shrink as much as 50 per cent before or during the menstrual cycle. Most lumps that pain are non malignant. It affects women between 35 and 50 years of age.
Why do lumps happen?
The lymphatic system normally transports fluids out of the breasts tissue. But if a person is overweight or prone to idiophatic edema (water retention due to an unknown cause); then there are more fluids than the system can handle and small spaces in the breast tissue may fill up forming cysts. These cysts swell up before the menstrual cycle and a resulting pressure causes pain in the breasts. Some lumps may press against a milk gland resulting in a production of prolactin (which helps milk secretion). All this may cause further cyst formation. So any little discharge, lumps or any change in the breasts tissue needs immediate medical attention.
Mammograms, lump biopsies, needle aspirations (a needle is inserted into the lump to get a sample of the fluid) are used to evaluate a breast lump. Some hormone balancing medicines are also used to shrink the lump and the tenderness. However, a detailed case history of the individual needs to be taken to identify the potential problem areas. Also, a medical examination, by conducting a mammogram test or an ultrasound, may be required to confirm the lump formation in the breast.
Increase consumption of vegetables, especially the cruciferous family (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale). Eat fibrous fruits like apple, pear, orange, sweetlime, papaya, melon etc, vegetables like spinach, fenugreek leaves, beans and peas which are rich in fibre as well as B complex vitamins. Raw seeds like flaxseeds, black til, nuts like almonds, walnuts, whole grains cereals like wheat, millet, ragi, oats etc should also be consumed. Eating these foods will change your biochemistry and may help prevent cyclical fluctuations in the cyst size and tenderness.
The addition of seafood to the diet, particularly fish high in the Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, trout and mackerel may be useful in preventing breast cysts (due to its iodine and healthy oils content). Vitamin A has been found to be useful in reducing both the pain symptoms and the size of the breast lesions in women with fibrocystic breast disease. Therefore consumption of beta carotene found abundantly in many yellow, orange, red, and dark green fruits and vegetables is beneficial. Vitamin E is also found to be quite helpful in reducing the pain and tenderness, as well as the size of breast lumps.
Diets high in fat, with meat and dairy products contribute to the formation of painful lumps. Caffeine in coffee, colas and energy drinks, theophylline in tea, theobromine in chocolate have also shown to contribute to this inflammation and should be reduced or eliminated from the diet.
Do not eat food made from wheat flour (maida), excess salt and sugar and fried foods.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.