A lifetime of healthy breasts
As you enter your 30s, 40s and 50s, your breasts will change along with the rest of you. In your childbearing years, you may wonder whether breastfeeding will affect your shape. After the menopause, you might be more concerned about the risk of breast cancer.
Your breasts in your 30s
During your 30s hormones, like oestrogen, help to keep breasts firm. Breasts contain no muscles. They consist of fibrous tissue and fatty tissue. They also consist of dense glandular tissue that includes milk-producing glands called lobules and ducts to carry the milk.
Fortunately, in your 30s, breast problems tend to be benign (non-cancerous). Younger women commonly experience fibrocystic breast disease, a broad term that is characterised by breast pain, cysts and non-cancerous lumpiness.
Fibroadenomas can also affect women in their 30s. These rubbery lumps made of fibrous and glandular tissue are not cancerous, but they can hurt. If they bother you, seek medical advice.
During this childbearing decade, breastfeeding offers mothers some long-term protection against breast cancer.
As the years go by, breasts become less glandular and fattier, which makes them less firm. Another factor is the stretching of fibrous bands in the breast called Cooper's ligaments. These fibrous tissues help hold up the breasts, but they can stretch over time and this can lead to some sagging.
Unless there is a strong family history of breast cancer, women in their 30s do not need mammogram breast cancer screening. In fact, younger women's denser breast tissue makes it harder to detect breast cancers on mammograms.
What about doing monthly breast checks at home?
Cancer Research UK recommends being 'breast aware' and self-examining your breasts recommending that women check their breasts at least once a month to familiarise themselves with the way their breasts feel so that they can report any changes to their doctors.
If you are premenopausal, the ideal time to check your breasts is 5 to 10 days after the beginning of your period.
Your breasts in your 40s
Cysts are the most common type of breast lump seen in women during their 40s, although cysts can develop at other ages too.
These fluid-filled sacs are not cancerous, but they can be painful. Doctors can drain or surgically remove them. Changes like atypical ductal hyperplasia may also begin during this decade. These abnormal cells in the milk ducts increase a woman's chances of breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk rises during this decade and, by the age of 50, the risk of breast cancer rises to one in 50 At this point, it is a good idea to go for breast screening when invited.
Cancer Research UK says it is usually women themselves who first notice any changes in their breasts. Seek medical advice if there's:
- Changes in the size, shape or feel of your breasts
- A new lump or thickening in one breast or under an armpit
- Any puckering, redness or dimpling of the skin
- Changes in the position of the nipple, a rash or nipple discharge
- Pain or discomfort that is new to you and only felt on one side
Your breasts in your 50s
After the menopause, the breasts not only become fattier but will shrink because women no longer need the milk-producing glands for breastfeeding.
While harmless lumps may come and go with the menstrual cycle in younger women, any new lump that appears after menopause require prompt attention. Most breast cancers occur in women over age 50.