Woman Wise


Fibrocystic breast disease (FBD), also know as cystic mastitis or benign breast lumps, is a mildly uncomfortable to severely painful swelling of the breasts. It affects up to 40% of premenopausal women and in about a third of these cases, the changes become a clinical problem due to pain and cyst formation.(1) Some studies indicate there is an increase in breast cancer risk with certain types of fibrous breast cysts.(2)

There are two major types of cyst formation. Fibrosis of connective tissue and hyperplasia, or overgrowth, of the epithelial cells lining the milk ducts. Only the epithelial hyperplasia cases are at risk for cancer.

Current scientific thought believes fibrocystic disease develops in those women whose estrogen secretion is dominant over their progesterone secretion. This is why the swelling coincides with your menstrual cycle. These effects may be due to increased levels of the hormone prolactin, which is secreted by the pituitary.(3),(4)

This disease progresses very slowly, with only a tenderness evident in your 20's and 30's. In your early 40's hard nodules and small cysts develop. This is the time when the risk of developing breast cancer is at its greatest. With breast cancer statistics remaining grim, you need to prevent this progression as early as possible.

First, when choosing contraceptive methods, be aware of the level of estrogen if using the contraceptive pill.(5) Next, a healthy liver will destroy 80% of the excess estrogen by converting it to estriol.(5) So make sure you treat your liver well. (See the last issue of CC.)

Obesity also predisposes a woman to breast lumps. Excess estrogen promotes weight gain, the fat cells then produce more estrogen, and off you go on the merry-go-round. So, control your weight.

There is strong evidence supporting an association between consumption of caffeine, theophylline and theobromine which is found in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and caffeinated medications. Caffeine, theophylline and theobromine are all known to stimulate overproduction of cells, such as fibrous tissue and cyst fluid.(6),(7),(8)

Supplementation with vitamin E is beneficial. Studies have shown that vitamin E will reduce cyst size by apparently returning hormone levels to normal.(9),(10),(11) At the Institute we recommend between 800 and 1200 i.u. total of vitamin E daily as part of your normal supplement regimen. Supplementation with mixed flavonoids(12) and mixed carotenoids would also be helpful. (See the article in this issue on carotenoids.) The use of organic flax seed oil is also beneficial.(13)

Remember, before beginning any supplement program, consult your health-care practitioner.

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Love SM, Gelman RS. New Engl J Med, 1982;307:1010.
Cole EN, et al. Serum prolactin concentrations in benign breast disease throughout the menstrual cycle. J Cancer, 1977;13:597-603.
Peters F, et al. Serum prolactin levels in patients with fibrocystic breast disease. Obstet Gynecol, 1984;64:381-385.
Colgan M. Hormonal Health. Vancouver: Apple Publishing, 1996.
Minton JP, et al. Clinical and biochemical studies on methylxanthine-related fibrocystic breast disease. Surgery, 19981;90:229-304.
Minton JP, et al. Caffeine, cyclic nucleotides, and breast disease. Surgery, 1979;86:105-109.
Ernster VL, et al. Effects of caffeine-free diet on benign breast disease: a random trial. Surgery, 1982;91:263-267.
London RS, et al. Endocrine parameters and alpha-tocopherol therapy of patients with mammary dysplasia. Cancer Res, 1981;41:3811-3813.
Sundaram GS, et al. Serum hormones and lipoproteins in benign breast disease. Cancer Res, 1981;41:3814-3816.
Abrams AA. Use of vitamin E in chronic cystic mastitis. New Engl J Med, 1965;272:1080-1081.
Colgan M, Colgan L. The Flavonoid Revolution. Vancouver: Apple Publishing, 1997.
Pye JK, et al. Clinical experience of drug treatments for mastalgia. Lancet, 1985;2: 373-377.

Colgan Chronicles.

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