As you age, it is common to experience minor changes in your breasts. Minor, noncancerous changes – or fibrocystic breast changes –  may cause uncomfortable symptoms and mild pain. In most cases, making simple adjustments may relieve your discomfort. Here are five frequently asked questions about these changes:

Q: Who is most likely to experience breast changes?

It’s most common for women to experience minor breast changes during their childbearing years and during menopause.  “Evaluating your family history can help determine your risk of developing breast conditions,” says Cynthia Plate, MD, a breast surgeon with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group. “Sometimes breast pain can arise during your period, pregnancy, hormone therapy and other times when your hormone levels are higher than usual.”

Q: What are some common minor changes?

Most breast discomfort is caused by hormonal changes. Here are examples of minor changes women experience in their breasts:

  • Painful Breast Lumps: Most breast lumps are not caused by cancer. They are frequently caused by cysts, fibroadenomas or other minor growths. “Breast cysts are fluid-filled, movable breast lumps that often feel tender to the touch,” says Dr. Plate. “Before and during your menstrual cycle, these cysts can grow and become more painful and noticeable.” Fibroadenomas are another growth that can feel rubbery and firm to the touch, which can sometimes cause discomfort for women.
  • Widespread Breast Pain: Dr. Plate says that breast pain spanning across a large area in one or both of your breasts is usually noncancerous and minor.
  •  Breast Swelling and Soreness: Pregnancy, beginning your menstrual cycle and experiencing other hormonal changes can make your breasts feel more full or heavier than usual.
  • Nipple Discharge: Fibrocystic breast changes, being pregnant and experiencing menopause are all common causes of nipple discharge and is normal.

Q: How can I tell if a change is minor or serious?

“Serious changes include hard lumps in your armpit, sharp and localized pain, bloody or infected nipple discharge and skin thickening or redness,” says Dr. Plate. “If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your primary care physician or OBGYN right away so they can recommend the best option for further testing and treatment.” The most common tests to diagnose more serious breast conditions such as breast cancer, are mammograms, breast ultrasound or a clinical breast exam.”

Q: Can breast changes increase my chance of developing breast cancer?

Most minor, noncancerous changes do not increase your risk of breast cancer, however there are some symptoms to be watchful for. Benign breast tumors and other conditions resulting from excessive cell growth in your breasts may increase your long-term risk of breast cancer.

Q: How can I treat uncomfortable breast symptoms?

Here are some simple ways you can treat your symptoms:

  • Wearing a well-fitted bra
  • Applying heat to the affected area
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever
  • Switching birth control methods

In some cases, your symptoms may be severe enough to require more treatment. “If your cysts become too large and painful, a breast care doctor may recommend draining or surgically removing the cyst to ease discomfort,” says Dr. Plate.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society, The Nemours Foundation, BreastCancer.org

Need help finding a doctor? Adventist Medical Group offers Primary and Specialty Care at over 10 locations.