What is a breast cyst?
Breast cysts are fluid-filled sac-like structures that occur within the breast tissue. Usually the cysts are felt as round to oval bumps with prominent margins. It may feel like water balloons but some cysts may appear firm. There can be more than one cyst in the breast tissue at the same time. Common symptoms include pain in the breast with an increase in the size of the cysts immediately before or during menstruation and decrease in the cyst size after periods.
Breast cysts commonly affect women between 35 to 50 years of age and are usually not cancerous. No treatment is required in most cases after proper diagnosis but large cysts causing severe pain may require aspiration of fluid, hormone therapy and even surgery.
Breast Cyst Symptoms
Common symptoms include :
- Smooth, mobile usually round lumps with prominent margin.
- Usually one breast is affected but sometimes both breasts may be involved.
- One cyst is usually present at a time but multiple cysts may occur.
- The lumps may characteristically increase in size immediately before or during menstruation and diminish in size once menstruation is over.
- Small cysts may cause sensitive breasts but the larger the cyst, the more severe the pain.
- Normal breast tissue may sometimes appear nodular or lumpy.
Causes of Breast Cyst
The breast tissue consists of lobes which are arranged like the petals of a flower. These lobes are further divided into smaller lobular structures which are capable of producing milk during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The milk-carrying ducts carries milk to the nipple from the milk-producing lobular structures. Besides the lobular structure the breast consist of supporting tissue made up of fibrous and fatty tissue which gives the breast its shape. Breast cysts appear when there is overgrowth of supportive tissue which blocks the milk carrying ducts. The ducts widen and fills with fluid.
The exact cause of a breast cyst is not known but it is thought to occur due to presence of excess circulating estrogen in the body. This theory is supported by the fact that even in healthy women, the cyclical change in estrogen level before and after menstruation leads to changes in the breast tissue which may feel lumpy or nodular.
Size of Breast Cysts
There are two types of cysts depending on the sise.
- Microcysts which are too small to be felt by palpation of the breast and only become visible during an ultrasound.
- Macrocysts which are larger, ranging around 1 to 2 inches in diameter and it can be felt during palpation of breast tissue. The macrocysts may compress the surrounding breast tissue and leading to breast pain and discomfort.
Although not yet proven conclusively some studies indicate there may be a link between excessive caffeine intake and breast cysts.
Breast Cyst Treatment
Usually no treatment is required for small asymptomatic breast cysts. For larger cysts and symptomatic cases, treatment options include :
- Aspiration of fluid from cysts.
- Use of birth control pills (oral contraceptive pills) to balance the hormone levels.
- Surgical removal of cysts is required in case of unusually large cysts producing severe symptoms.
Sometimes lifestyle modification may help to some extent in reducing the development of breast cysts. This includes avoiding wearing tight fitting bras, staying away from caffeinated drinks and reducing salt intake.