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Difference between breast cancer and fibrocystic disease?


     Breast cancer ranks number one amongst all the types of cancers found in women. It is the most common type of cancer seen in females in the USA and the leading cause of death due to cancer in women.  Fibrocystic disease is a medical condition wherein there are non-cancerous lumps formed in the breast tissue.

Difference in features

    Fibrocystic breast disease affects the females mostly in the reproductive age group. This condition is a benign condition and is influenced by hormonal changes which occur during the menstrual cycle. The lumps of the fibrocystic disease are fibrous in nature. The texture is smooth and they are mobile. The lumps do not spread to surrounding tissues and never go beyond the breast tissue.

    Breast cancer is a condition where there is uncontrolled growth of cells of the breast and lumps are formed in the breast tissue. Breast cancer leads to lumps which are not smooth and spreads to the adjacent tissues rapidly.

Difference in symptoms

        Fibrocystic disease is a painful condition and can affect one or both the breasts whereas breast cancer is most often a painless condition which infiltrates the deeper tissues as well as the distant lymph nodes.

         The most important feature which differentiates fibrocystic disease from breast cancer is that it does not spread, grows very slowly and regresses with decline of hormonal levels. Fibrocystic disease will have swelling and tenderness of the breast that will keep varying with the hormonal fluctuations in the body. Breast cancer instead will not have a demarcated capsule to enclose the cells and will spread to the adjacent tissues and lymph nodes and blood vessels leading to a poor prognosis.  There will be heaviness of breasts and feeling of fullness of the milk glands in fibrocystic disease whereas in breast cancer there tends to be an orange peel-like pitted appearance of skin of the areola and the skin around. There might be a distorted nipple with unexpected discharges from it that are offensive or bloody. Breast cancer might cause shrinking of the breast or a gross enlargement. Fibrocystic disease produces no such change in the overall size and shape of the breast.

     Diagnosis of both the conditions depends on ultrasound or mammography of the breasts which will confirm the size and presence of the lump. A biopsy will confirm the structure and type of cells in the lump.

Difference in treatment

   The treatment of breast cancer depends on the grade of the cancer.  Chemotherapy consists of giving drugs which will cause the cancerous growth to reduce or radiation which will burn out the cancerous cells growing in the breast. Occasionally, doctors may suggest surgical removal of breast cancer if it is metastatic in nature and then continue with medical treatment. As far as fibrocystic disease is considered, the management consists of painkillers during acute episodes of pain and vitamin E which is helpful as it is a strong anti-oxidant. Fine needle aspiration of fibrocystic disease is suggested in case there is a huge lump and pain is unbearable.

             Fibrocystic disease has a very good prognosis and does not recur whereas breast cancer has chances of relapse after a decade and hence regular follow up is needed.


Fibrocystic disease is a non-fatal medical condition characterized by a lump in the breast(s) which is painful on certain days of the menstrual cycle. Breast cancer is a potentially fatal condition where there is uncontrolled growth of the breast tissue leading to spread of the cancer to other tissues and death if the cancerous cells aren’t surgically removed or treated immediately.

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