Other Types of Fibroids
Uterine fibroids, which are benign growths composed of connective tissue and muscles in the muscular wall of the uterus, are the most common growths in a woman’s body. More than 30% of women of childbearing age suffer from them. However, uterine fibroids are not the only type of fibroid that a woman can develop. Breast fibroids are also widely prevalent among women.
Similar to uterine fibroids, breast fibroids are non-cancerous growths. However, unlike uterine fibroids, the fibroids found in the breast do not cause infertility or contribute to pregnancy complications. Unfortunately, though, they can increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.
What are Breast Fibroids?
Breast fibroids, also known as fibrocystic breast disease, fibroid breasts, mammary dysplasia, benign breast disease and diffuse cystic mastopathy, are benign (non-cancerous), moveable, rubbery nodules that cause painful swelling near the breast surface.
Breast fibroids are quite common, particularly in women who are 30 years of age or older. Approximately 33% of them suffer from breast fibroids because of the cumulative effect of monthly menstrual and hormonal cycles, as well as the accumulation of fluids in the cells and cellular debris in the breast. This process commences at puberty and continues upto menopause, after which breast fibroids become less of a problem, presumably due to the decrease in estrogen and progesterone.
What are the Causes of Breast Fibroids?
The causes of breast fibroids are not completely understood. However, there are several factors that play a significant role in the development of the disease.
- The monthly changes in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone are considered to be the most noteworthy factors contributing to this disease. These two hormones directly affect the breast tissues by causing cells to grow and multiply.
- Prolactin, growth factor, thyroid hormone and insulin also influence the development of breast fibroids.
- The breast produces hormonal products from its glandular and fat cells. These hormonal products send signals to the neighbouring breast cells. These signals are the key factors responsible for the development of breast fibroids.
Is There a Genetic Cause for Breast Fibroids?
In terms of the hereditary aspect of breast fibroids, breast fibroids do appear to run in family. This said, there has been no conclusive study confirming the hereditary aspect of the condition. Fibroids are noncancerous, benign growths and are therefore, not to be confused with breast cancer although the two are believed to be linked. Women who have breast fibroids do in fact have a more elevated risk of breast cancer than women who do not.
Breast cancer and fibroids
Breast cancer is linked to the BRCA gene and a genetic DNA test can indicate whether you are likely to develop this condition over the course of your life.
With breast fibroids, scientific advances have also found genetic links. The study in question was pioneered by the University of Helsinki and tracked down the development of fibroids to a mutation is a gene, the MED12 gene.
The frequency of this gene mutation in women with breast fibroids has been found to be extremely high, which has spurred scientists to establish casual links.
This is a protein-coding gene may in some cases be disrupted for reasons that are currently speculative. However, the disruption in the activity of the gene caused by the mutation may cause breast fibroids.
The discovery of course could have huge implications towards bettering the quality of treatment, early diagnosis and targeted therapies (special types of medication that set to block the growth and spread of cells, usually cancer cells).
What are the Typical Symptoms of Breast Fibroids?
Your menstrual cycle plays a significant role in the development of breast fibroids, therefore the symptoms of the disease normally worsen just before the menstrual period and improve immediately after the period.
Some important symptoms are:
- Irregularly shaped areas of thicker tissue with a lumpy or ridge-like surface appearing in the breast
- Feeling of fullness or heaviness
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- A burning sensation
- Dull ache or severe pain
- Premenstrual tenderness and swelling
- Changes in nipple sensation and itching
- Breast discomfort, which may be either persistent or intermittent
How can Breast Fibroids be Diagnosed?
The primarily method of diagnosing breast fibroids is by physically feeling and touching the lumpy areas. These areas are mostly concentrated in the upper quadrant (the area close to the armpit) of the breast.
These lumps are movable, as they are not attached to the underlying tissue. They may be rounded with smooth borders, rubbery, tiny and bead-like, irregular or ridge-like. The characteristics of the lumpy areas usually vary from one woman to another.
The second widely prevalent method for the detection of breast fibroids is mammography. However, it can be very difficult to examine extremely fibrocystic breasts by touching and feeling, or by mammograms. In such cases, specialized ultrasound examination is quite helpful.
Other methods used to diagnose breast fibroids include biopsy and aspiration of the breast.
Biopsy may sometimes be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis and to differentiate between breast fibroids and breast cancer.
Aspiration of breasts with a fine needle can be done to detect the presence of large cysts.
Can Breast Fibroids Cause Breast Cancer?
The presence of breast fibroids can increase the risk of breast cancer because the cells that form the fibroids no longer respond correctly to signals that control cell growth and division.
This indicates that a genetic error has occurred in these cells. When these atypical cells begin to multiply, the genetic error accumulates. These genetic defects are responsible for the development of breast cancer.
Environmental, dietary and metabolic toxins may also interact with a woman’s complex hormonal system to increase the risk of genetic mutations in the breast fibroid, thereby increasing the chances of developing breast cancer.
However, only about 5% of women with breast fibroids will experience the changes that could lead to breast cancer.
How can Breast Fibroids be Treated?
Treatment of breast fibroids can be segregated into the following therapies.
- Surgery – Doctors usually opt for surgery when the breast fibroids fail to disappear even after several attempts at removing the fluid. Surgery will involve removing the fibroid lumps from the breast.
- Dietary Therapy – Considered to be quite effective for the treatment of breast fibroids, doctors recommend the following nutritional therapy plan to control breast fibroids:
- Switch over to a low-fat, vegetarian diet because a high-fat diet not only causes obesity, but also results in imbalanced oestrogen levels, which is the primary cause of the development of breast fibroids.
- Start taking lots of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, and high fiber foods like apples. All these increase oestrogen excretion.
- Vitamin-B rich foods such as brown rice, wheat germ and wheat germ oil, and nutritional yeast are also beneficial.
- Avoid taking caffeine foods like chocolate, carbonated sodas, concentrated starches like pastries and fatty dairy foods, hormone-laden meats and refined sugars.
- Avoid fried, sugary and salty foods, especially smoked or preserved meats during your menstrual period.
- Eat diuretic foods, like cucumbers and watermelons, and dark green leafy vegetables to neutralize and flush out the toxins.
- Drink plenty of water every day.
- Medicinal Therapy – Doctors may recommend oral contraceptives to decrease symptoms of breast fibroids. In severe cases, when the potential benefit is thought to outweigh the potential adverse effects, a doctor may even prescribe a synthetic androgen.
- Get a Good Bra – Last, but not least, it is very important to wear a well-fitted bra to provide good support to the breasts. This can help alleviate some of the discomfort caused by breast fibroid symptoms. Furthermore, performing a breast self-examination every month is also essential.