How and why does aging effects a woman’s breasts?

woman in pain with hand on the breast

As female ages, the tissues and structure of the breasts begin to change. This is because of the differences in the reproductive hormone levels caused due to the natural process of aging. As a result of such changes, the breasts begin to lose their natural firmness and fullness. Also, the passage of age brings an increased risk of developing growths such as fibroids, cysts, and cancer in the breasts. Keep in mind that a female of any age can develop such conditions. Regular breast self-exams are suggested to check for any growths. Below are mentioned the common changes a female observes in the breasts with aging:

  • The breasts become extra sensitive- When you go through perimenopause, the menstrual cycle is likely to become shorter. This means that the period becomes more frequent. PMS might hit in a big way with the approach of each period. There can be tenderness and swelling in breasts. You have no control over the hormonal cycle in your body,  but you might be able to lower the pain by minimizing the external source of estrogen. Cutting down on soy-based foods, and red meat helps lower estrogen.
  • Increase in breast size- Breasts often get bigger in size due to weight gain, swelling due to increased estrogen levels and inflammation, which especially increases in the early forty’s. This can be a problem, because most women find bigger breasts uncomfortable, as they are already accustomed to their existing size. Maintaining a healthy weight can help women to retain their existing size. Keeping a check on weight also controls tenderness and sensitivity, because stored fat increases estrogen levels in the blood.
  • Sagging of breasts- Sagging of breasts becomes quite noticeable in forty’s. But it doesn’t get serious until fifty’s as estrogen and postmenopausal levels are low until then. In the forty’s, skin loses collagen and becomes less elastic. These changes are completely normal, but if they bother you, consider working out as an option. Push-ups strengthen the muscles behind the breasts and reduce sagging. A supportive bra is also a solution, but it is only temporary.
  • Increases in lumps and bumps- Fibrocystic changes are fairly normal in the forty’s. They can cause the breasts to feel lumpier. This is not an issue of worry as long as similar changes occur in both the breasts. Also, as your period comes closer, your breasts might feel a little bumpier as well, but this is normal. But if you feel doubtful, or find a lump suddenly that doesn’t diminish after your period, you should go see your doctor.
  • Your breasts become denser- Breast density is the amount of fat you have compared to the number of glands and ducts. To find out if you have dense breasts, you have to get a mammogram. Dense breasts are fairly common in premenopausal women as compared to postmenopausal ones. But it doesn’t mean that your breasts automatically lose density as age passes by. In fact, women are likely to have denser breasts in their forty’s as compared to thirty’s.

If you don’t know about the density of your breasts, you should ask your doctor. This should be done because it is difficult for radiologists to identify cancer in a mammogram, and density itself is believed to increase the risk of breast cancer. You should consider a sonogram because, in the case of women with dense breasts, there is a great chance that breast cancer would not be spotted in a mammogram.

Increased risk of breast cancer

The risk of having breast cancer rises when you cross forty, regardless of breast density. This is why an annual screening mammogram is suggested by a lot of doctors. Doing a self-breast exam is also helpful, and should be done once a month. They might not be a sure and accurate diagnosis, but they help a lot of patients to identify tumors. Moreover, it is self-awareness, and it simply means taking more care of your breasts, so that you can inform your doctor if you find anything unusual.

Causes

  • The natural decline in estrogen levels- One of the prime causes of changes in breasts is the natural fall of the female reproductive hormone estrogen. Due to the reduced amount of estrogen, the connective tissue of breasts becomes less hydrated, and this, in turn, makes the tissue elastic. Hence, in the absence of estrogen, breasts lose their fullness and get a sagged appearance. This causes a change in cup size as one age. Also, fatty tissue replaces tense breast tissue with passing age.
  • Menopause- Major changes occur in breasts due to menopause. It is a natural process during which menstruation and ovulation stop. It occurs between ages 45 and 55. A woman is officially in menopause when she has not had a period for twelve months straight. 
  • Other causes- Surgical removal of ovaries can also cause changes in the breast. Many of the female reproductive hormones are produced by ovaries, and after their removal, there is the absence of many hormones, which leads to changes in breasts.

Common changes in breasts

  • Many changes are visible in breasts as age passes. Some of the common ones are listed below.
  • Stretch marks
  • Sagging of breasts and an elongated and stretchy appearance
  • Increased space between breasts
  • Lumpiness due to fibrocystic changes

Some changes which might be noticeable might not be normal. These should be discussed with a doctor immediately. Some of these abnormal changes are as follows.

  • Redness on breasts
  • Puckering
  • Thickening of the skin of breasts
  • Pulled in nipples
  • Discharge from nipples
  • Pain In breasts
  • Formation of hard lumps
  • A significant difference in the appearance of both breasts

Treatment and Management of changes in breasts

A number of changes in breasts are a normal part of the aging. But if you are particularly bothered by the changes in your breast tissue, you should consider cosmetic surgery as an option. It can increase the fullness in your breasts again and position your nipples in a better way. They can give you fuller, more firm, and youthful breasts again, and it should be thought upon if the appearance of your aged breasts really bothers you. For the stretch mark that occurs due to aging, there is no specific or definitive treatment. Some products may be used to reduce their appearance to an extent. Some studies show that the herb, Centella Asiatica and the prescription medicine Tretinoin are effective in minimizing the appearance of stretch marks. There are laser treatments available for this too.

Discussing these alternates with your doctor before coming to a decision is a good option. Keep in mind that these changes are supposed to happen and that they are regular. If you don’t feel the need to treat them, you don’t have to. You can embrace them as they are.

Prevention

There is no definitive way to prevent the effects of aging in your breasts. It is a normal process, which cannot be fully avoided. But if you smoke, quitting it can help you drastically in maintaining good skin and tissue health.

Taking extensive care of your body throughout your life is very important. Treating your body kindly is a duty we have towards ourselves. Having an adequate, balanced and healthy diet, a good and consistent sleep cycle with at least 6 hours of sleep, regular exercise, yoga, and cardiovascular activities are some of the things that can be done to keep our body healthy. This also promotes a gentle aging process. It means that the effects of aging would be there, but they would not be very drastic.

Breast tissues change their composition, shape, and structure as we age. Breasts of a woman who is premenopausal are composed of firm fat tissues and mammary glands. The approach of menopause causes a fall in estrogen level, which is a female reproductive hormone. Also, the mammary gland estrogen stimulates are reduced. The mammary glands lose their firmness and shrink in size, The shrinkage is replaced by fat. This results in softer and loses breasts.

Apart from this, breasts are composed of connective tissues. These tissues break down with age. There is an acute loss of internal scaffolding, and this leads to sagging of breasts. Other factors which can be responsible for this are smoking, multiple pregnancies, gain in weight and genetics. These play a vital role in making breasts saggy. Breastfeeding is also considered as a major cause of drooping of breasts.

Changes in tissues

Lumps in the breast are not normal during menopause. These are often cancerous cysts. Although all breast changes may not be cancerous, lumpiness in breasts sometimes might be a cause to worry. There might be tenderness, softness, and lumpiness in your breasts. This can happen even when you are not having a period during menopause. But changes like these do not mean that there is a reason to worry. Still, there are a lot of effects and changes in breasts due to aging that you should check out promptly with your doctor or physician, without waiting for your mammogram. These include:

  • A solid lump or bump on the breast
  • Lumps and bumps under your arms
  • Change in the shape or size of your breast
  • Nipple discharge
  • Itchiness on the breasts
  • Red and scaly skin on the breasts

Risk of Breast Cancer

Aging is one of the greatest risk factors for breast cancer. Almost eighty percent of women who have breast cancer are around or over the age of fifty. The following data given by the National Cancer Institute shows women getting breast cancer over the decades. These women are over the age of forty.

  • Women of age 40: 1.47 percent (or 1 in 68)
  • Women over age 50: 2.38 percent (or 1 in 42)
  • Women over age 60:  3.56 percent (or 1 in 28)
  • Women over age 70:  3.82 percent (or 1 in 26)

History of breast cancer, family medical history, alcohol intake, physical inactivity, obesity or weight are issues are some factors which can elevate your chances of developing breast cancer. Getting a clinical breast exam and a mammogram once a year after the age of 40 is highly recommended by cancer specialists and oncologists.

Performing a breast self-exam is an effective way of becoming familiar with what is normal for your body. But this should not be considered a substitute for a doctor’s exam or mammogram. Lastly,  most women experience these changes significantly. They notice how their breasts look and feel over the course of their lives. But it is important to note here that most of these shifts are purely cosmetic in nature and are related to aging, rather than signs of more serious age-related diseases. 

For further assistance, visit the Pristyn Care clinic nearest to you. Our dedicated and highly trained team of doctors work efficiently and hard to provide a better standard of living to all the patients. 

 

 

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