Fibrocystic breasts: should you be concerned?

Q: I recently went to the doctor because my breast felt funny. I was told that I should take 400 IU of vitamin C because my breast was fibrocystic. How can they be sure that’s all it is? Should I be more concerned because I have breast cancer in my family?

A: The majority of women have what are referred to as fibrocystic breast changes, some more pronounced than others. The basic structure of the breast as a secreting organ causes these changes, in which fluid-filled cysts form that come and go throughout the menstrual cycle.

Cystic changes can be very uncomfortable, and can also be frightening; when we feel a lump, we are always sure we have cancer. Of course, these cysts come and go, whereas bad things (like cancer) tend to stay and get bigger.

Over the years, I have settled on a regimen that helps control fibrocystic breast changes:

Limit your caffeine as best you can. Caffeine does not cause cancer, but more than 80% of my patients tell me it bothers their breasts.

Take natural supplements. 400 IU of vitamin E often helps, as does 100 mg. of B6. (The B6 is a natural diuretic, and probably acts against the hormone prolactin. No one has any idea why the E works). I have also had good results with evening primrose oil, about 1000 IU per day. The evening primrose plant is rich in the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid, but again, we don’t know why it relieves breast cysts. Finally, one of my breast surgeon friends is big on kelp.

I have found that the vast majority of symptoms can be controlled with the measures listed above. If these changes do not help your breasts, talk with your health care provider; there are medications such as danocrine that can be used to control these symptoms.

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