What Is Stromal Fibrosis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Stromal fibrosis is the development of fibrous tissue in the stromal cells that make up an important part of the connective tissue. It can be identified on a biopsy of tissue from an area of interest or concern. The pathologist will be able able to identify an unusually high concentration of fibrous tissue among the cells, and can describe this as stromal fibrosis. She may also have other findings from the same examination.

A biopsy of tissue from an area of concern may be used to identify stromal fibrosis.
A biopsy of tissue from an area of concern may be used to identify stromal fibrosis.

On a biopsy report, this term can be frightening for patients to encounter, especially if it is not explained. Fibrosis in general usually occurs in response to inflammation, either chronic or recurrent. Over time, the repeated bouts of inflammation irritate and scar the tissue, causing buildups of fibrous tissue. If enough fibrous material develops, it can turn into stromal fibrosis. This finding can indicate the presence of underlying disease, poor response to treatment for inflammation, or something else, depending on other findings in the same examination.

A mammogram may show signs of stromal fibrosis in the breasts.
A mammogram may show signs of stromal fibrosis in the breasts.

Often, stromal fibrosis is benign in nature. A pathologist will note it because it is not expected, but it is not a cause for concern. The surrounding tissue should function like it normally does, and the stromal cells will continue to provide support. For example, if a patient's breast biopsy shows signs of stromal fibrosis, it means that the underlying tissues in the breast are fibrous, but doesn't indicate the presence of cancer or anything else. The pathologist might also find small cysts, evidence of fibrocystic breast disease.

The development of fibrosis may be a cause for concern with other kinds of cellular changes. A pathologist could identify signs of malignancy with the fibrosis, for instance. The fibrosis may be the result of inflammation and irritation caused by disease, like a cancerous tumor. A doctor may request medical imaging studies and other tests if the pathologist believes the stromal fibrosis is indicative of a medical problem. The doctor can use information from these tests to determine if the patient needs treatment.

A finding of stromal fibrosis may result in nothing other than a recommendation to monitor the area for signs of tissue changes. The patient may not need any medical intervention, and the fibrous tissue may never turn into a cause for concern. In other cases, patients may need medications, surgery, and other treatment options to address an ongoing disease process. A pathologist can reassess the tissue later to see how well the patient responded to treatment.

If a stromal fibrosis shows signs of causing a medical problem, a doctor may request imaging studies.
If a stromal fibrosis shows signs of causing a medical problem, a doctor may request imaging studies.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I've been told that having dense breast tissue puts me at a greater risk for breast cancer, that cancer is more likely to develop in dense tissue. I've had two benign lumps and both were removed. It's possible that since your friend was diagnosed with dense fibrosis, they were more likely to remove it due to it having a little bit higher risk. I'm speculating, but that may be why.


@burcinc-- Saying that stromal fibrosis in breasts increases the risk for breast cancer is not correct.

I have seen a lot of research on this and while some have made this claim, there are also plenty of studies which say exactly the opposite. The truth is that researchers are not sure whether stromal fibrosis is a precursor to breast cancer or not.

My personal thought is that factors that contribute to stromal fibrosis might also contribute to breast cancer. But there is no general rule that everyone who has stromal fibrosis will have cancer.

So I think we need to be more careful when we talk about this. It's not right to link it to cancer when it hasn't been proven yet.


@turkay1-- Women with stromal fibrosis are at a higher risk of having breast cancer, that might be the reason why your friend's stromal fibrosis was removed.

By the way, when did this happen?

I'm curious because I know that doctors have learned new things about stromal fibrosis and fibrocysts. Ten years ago, doctors would almost always surgically remove these but they don't do this very often anymore. Instead, the patient is asked to return for ultrasounds every six months to see if there is any change.

My mom, for example, has had a fibroadenoma in her left breast for the past four years. She has been going for ultrasound check-ups every six months to see if it has grown or not. After five years, if there has been no change, she will only have to go once a year for checkups.

Doctors learn new things everyday so the way these things are treated is still changing and developing. Today, I don't think a doctor would decide to surgically remove a breast stromal fibrosis unless it is growing due to disease.


My friend was diagnosed with dense stromal fibrosis in one of her breasts and her doctor removed it through surgery. Her biopsy did not show a tumor or anything else.

If stromal fibrosis is not dangerous by itself and there is no underlying disease, then why did the doctor surgically remove hers?

Does stromal fibrosis have negative affects on breast tissue if it remains?

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