The Effect of Vitamin E on Breast Lumps

Finding a lump in your breast can be a shock, triggering concerns about extreme treatments like chemotherapy or breast removal. Breast lumps can be uncomfortable, but they don't always herald the worst.

Vitamin E can be helpful for some types of breast lumps. (Image: solidcolours/iStock/GettyImages)

Although you should have any lumps checked by your doctor or naturopath, using vitamin E or other natural remedies can sometimes alleviate or lessen the issue so you don't have to resort to cut-and-burn medicine.

Tip

Always consult your gynecologist, naturopath or other health care practitioner to assess breast lumps before starting home treatment with vitamin E or other home remedies.

Menstruation Cycle and Lumps

The days leading up to or during your monthly cycle can make your breasts feel heavy, painful and lumpy. The syndrome is known medically as _cyclic mastalgia_, and somewhere between 41 and 79 percent of women experience it either regularly or occasionally.

Although the pain and heaviness usually resolve within a week, the condition can become more pronounced as you age. Left untreated, cyclic mastalgia can disrupt your quality of life when pain and lumps present at menstruation time. Menopause brings relief from this condition after periods entirely cease, and the hormone-fed painful lumps no longer become a monthly trial.

The lumps caused by this syndrome can get picked up on mammograms, mimicking the appearance of breast cancer. The condition can be caused by water retention in the breast ducts — but can also appear as a result of psychological disturbances such as chronic stress or traumatic life events. Schedule any breast exams or testing for one week following your menstrual cycle to avoid menstrual changes as a factor, advises the University of Michigan.

Inflammatory markers in the bodies of women with this condition include interleukins (IL-6 and IL-1α) as well as tissue necrotizing factor (TNF-α).

Vitamin E and Cyclic Mastalgia

A 2015 study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research showed that taking 200 international units of vitamin E daily can significantly reduce symptoms of cyclic mastalgia. Study participants recorded their pain levels one month before starting the study, using the Cardiff breast pain score. Participants shaded in squares of a chart for each day of the month as having "severe," "mild" or "no" breast pain.

After just one month of taking vitamin E, patient pain levels dropped from an assessed score of 9.1 to 5.1. During the second month of the study, pain levels fell dramatically again, to an assessed rating of 2.3.

Vitamin E wasn't the only substance assessed in the study. The second group of participants received 40 milligrams of vitamin B6 instead of vitamin E and experienced similar levels of improvement.

Fibroadenoma and Vitamin E

Discovering a hard, rubbery lump under the skin of your breast can be particularly unnerving. Fibroadenomas are usually painless and typically have a smooth, round shape that moves easily. Studies on vitamin E reviewed in Endotext have shown it to be ineffective for this type of breast lump.

Fortunately, despite their disturbing texture, simple fibroadenomas are not cancerous. Better yet, they don't increase your risk of getting breast cancer. The not-so-good news is that although you can have just one, you could just as easily develop many of these lumps in one or both of your breasts.

Although simple fibroadenomas are common, there's more than one type of fibroadenoma. They include:

Juvenile fibroadenomas: These develop in girls, ages 10 to 18, and, although they can get large, they usually shrink or disappear over time.

Giant fibroadenomas: Fibroadenoma lumps that grow to more than 2 inches in diameter fall into the "giant" category. They can start to replace other breast tissue, and your doctor might advise removal for this reason.

Complex fibroadenomas: Diagnosed by pathologists, these fibroadenomas can proliferate, and they require removal.

Noncancerous Tumors

Phyllodes tumors get their name from a Greek word meaning "leaf-like," due to the pattern they make as they grow inside the breast. These lumps can be scary as they proliferate; however, they're usually noncancerous and seldom spread outside the breast.

Fortunately, they're also pretty rare in women and seldom seen in men. Some types of phyllodes tumors can be malignant and require surgery. The third type of this breast lump falls between the categories of benign and malignant. All three kinds usually require surgical removal because of their fast growth.

Although fibroadenomas typically develop in a woman's 30s, phyllodes tumors tend to happen in the 40s. A doctor may recommend a lumpectomy or a partial or full mastectomy.

When Lumps Are Cancerous

Animal studies in the early 2000s by Brigham and Women's Hospital seemed to indicate that there is a link between supplementing the diet with alpha-tocopherol/vitamin E and reduced risk of cancer. However, the answer is not so cut and dried.

A 2019 review of studies by Brigham and Women's Hospital revealed that the effect of vitamin E depends on your genetics, specifically, the COMT gene. For some, it can reduce the risk of cancer. In others, it can increase the risk.

Still, vitamin E might have positive effects on those who do develop cancerous lumps. A 2018 study by the University of North Carolina showed that vitamin E can reduce toxicity caused by radiation treatment. When used in conjunction with the medication Pentoxifylline, it is also useful in treating and preventing radiation-caused fibrosis in breast cancer patients.

Healing and Vitamin E

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation notes that vitamin E can be helpful during the process of surgical recovery and lessen the medical effects of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Patients taking doxorubicin experience less hair loss when supplementing with vitamin E, and people on amiodarone tend to have less lung damage.

Vitamin E Can Reduce Pain

A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion showed that taking 400 international units of vitamin E per day for two months can help alleviate breast pain that comes with your menstrual cycle. Make sure your doctor examines any breast lump or pain that's constant or doesn't happen in conjunction with your menstrual rhythm.

Other changes along with vitamin E supplementation can help reduce tenderness and lumps. Eliminate caffeine, increase exercise and decrease dietary fats from animal sources such as dairy and meat. Get fitted for a supportive bra, use warm compresses in painful areas and don't smoke.

Vitamin E Supplementation

You can buy vitamin E capsules in any health care store or pharmacy, most commonly in the form of alpha-tocopherol. However, this is just one type of vitamin E. In total, vitamin E comes in eight forms — four tocopherol forms known as alpha, beta, delta and gamma and four tocotrienol forms by the same names. Each has a particular role in the body, with alpha and gamma tocopherols the most studied.

Alpha-tocopherol is the most common kind of vitamin E contained in supplements. It's found in high levels in blood serum and is effective in reducing oxygen-based free radicals. This is the only form that is effective in lowering vitamin E deficiency, according to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute. You can find this type of vitamin E in nuts and seeds and their oils, spinach, trout, avocados and cranberry juice.

Gamma-tocopherol targets nitrogen-based free radicals and complements the role of alpha-tocopherol. It's found abundantly in flaxseed oil and evening primrose oil, and in nut and seeds like walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

Natural Is Better

Vitamin E supplements come in both natural and synthetic forms. Look on the ingredient label to determine which type you're buying. Natural forms have the letter D at the beginning of the name, such as D-alpha-tocopherol. Synthetic forms have a DL at the front of the name.

When it comes to many vitamins, such as vitamin C, artificial forms are equally as effective in the body — but where vitamin E is concerned, natural is best. Studies show that natural forms deliver more usable vitamin E to the bloodstream.

Look for supplements sourced with soybean oil or wheat germ oil to receive all four types of tocopherols in your diet. Supplements using palm oil or rice bran deliver the four types of tocotrienols.

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