Breast cysts are noncancerous lumps in the breast caused by fibrocystic breast changes, fibroadenomas and, less commonly, fluid-filled sacs. Fibrocystic breast changes include painful breast lumps that come and go in accordance with your menstrual cycle, while fibroadenomas are solid, fibrous cysts that may require surgical removal if they don't resolve on their own. Breast cysts are common among women of reproductive age, and while their exact cause is unknown, anecdotal evidence indicates coffee consumption may possibly play a causative role.
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According to Mayo Clinic internist Sandhya Pruthi, M.D., there does not appear to be a clear-cut connection between caffeine -- or coffee, a major dietary source of caffeine -- and breast cysts. However, in very large doses, the caffeine in coffee may indirectly influence reproductive hormones, which, according to MayoClinic.com, are thought to affect the development of fibroadenomas. Moreover, some women report relief from fibrocystic breast changes when they reduce caffeine intake, according to Pruthi. So if you drink a lot of coffee and suffer from uncomfortable fibrocystic breast changes, you may want to try going caffeine-free, says Pruthi. MedlinePlus also reports that while there is no evidence that caffeine causes fibrocystic breast changes, some women believe reducing their consumption of caffeine -- as well as chocolate and fat -- helps.
Besides reducing intake of caffeine, chocolate and fat, some women also report improvement in fibrocystic breast changes by taking birth control pills, increasing fiber intake and taking certain dietary supplements, such as vitamin E, B vitamins and evening primrose oil, according to a "New York Times" health report. However, these supplements have not shown benefits in clinical studies, according to MedlinePlus, and you should only take dietary supplements under your doctor's supervision. For breast pain associated with fibrocystic breast changes, taking an over-the-counter pain relief medication such as acetaminophen may help, as may wearing a well-fitting bra and using ice or heat therapy on the breasts, notes MedlinePlus.
Whereas clinical evidence doesn't indicate that coffee causes or contributes to the development of benign breast cysts, there is some evidence that drinking coffee may reduce your risk of developing cancerous breast lumps. A study published in "Breast Cancer Research" in May 2011 concluded that compared to women who rarely drink coffee, women who drink coffee are less likely to develop breast cancer. Specifically, coffee reduces risk of antiestrogen-resistant estrogen-receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer, according to the results of this study. The study's authors note that the mechanism by which coffee reduces risk of ER-negative breast tumors is not known, however. A meta-analysis published in "BMC Cancer" in March 2011 also concluded that coffee reduces risk of breast cancer, as well as pancreatic, bladder, prostate, esophageal and other cancers.
When to See a Doctor
It's important to note that having breast cysts does not increase your risk for breast cancer; having breast cysts, can, however, make self-exams of the breast for cancer less effective for cancer screening, as a biopsy is the only surefire way to ensure that a lump in the breast is benign. To rule out breast cancer, it is crucial to see a doctor any time you notice a new lump in your breast. Having discharge from the nipple -- especially if it is bloody -- bruising on the breast, flatness or indentation on the nipple, or any redness or puckering of the breast skin also requires a doctor visit. Your health care provider will perform a complete breast exam and, if necessary, conduct a biopsy to determine whether the lump is benign.