What is menopause doing to my breasts?

As women age, their bodies will go through several different phases or changes. Breast changes during menopause are common and often the most visible sign of this phase. The cause of these changes can range from fluctuations in hormones, age, weight loss/gain, illness and lifestyle changes. For many women, it’s a combination of several of these factors and how their bodies react to the changes. From peri-menopause to post-menopause, women may see several different phases in terms of breast shape and size.

The Estrogen Effect

Around the age of 35 to 40 (depending on each woman’s genetic and physical makeup), the amount of estrogen a woman produces naturally will begin to taper off. This can result in varying degrees of breast pain and will also have a direct effect on how their breasts look and feel. Much of the firmness found in a younger woman’s breast has to do with the amount of glandular tissue. When the balance between glandular tissue and fat begins to change, the breasts may become softer and lose some of their fullness. This is why you may start to see breast changes during menopause. When a woman has passed through menopause (or had a hysterectomy), taking hormone replacement treatments may cause the breasts to become more dense or firm.


Reduction in Glandular Tissue

As a woman ages, the glandular tissues that are needed to produce milk are no longer necessary. With time, they gradually begin to shrink and disappear, causing the breast to lose some of its density and firmness. This may also change the shape of your breasts as well. For some women, depending on their physical makeup, their breasts may flatten, leaving little in the way of tissue. For others, the breasts may draw fatty tissue in to replace the glandular tissue as it erodes away. With the loss of glandular tissue, you may begin to feel more lumps. Although most are considered to be benign, it’s essential that you continue with your yearly breast exams after you have reached menopause.


An Increase in Fatty Tissue

Women can gain or lose weight at any age, but it’s during menopause that it begins to affect the breast tissue. As glandular tissue is lost, gaining weight could cause some of the fat cells to be deposited in the breast area, causing the breasts to look bigger and feel softer than before. Part of the reason for this is that glandular tissue is more dense, while fatty tissue has less substance but takes up more space. While some women may retain the fatty tissue that accumulates within the breast, others may lose it just like they lose fat from their stomachs.

Lose weight, lose volume?

One of the biggest factors that can affect a woman’s breast size throughout her entire life is her weight. At or around the time of peri-menopause/menopause, weight loss can cause a woman’s breasts to shrink, losing the majority of the mass and leaving behind sagging skin and literally no cleavage. This may or may not be permanent depending on the woman’s lifestyle, how her weight fluctuates, and other health factors.

Women who find that their breasts have grown to massive proportions and taken on a life of their own after menopause may want to look into having a breast reduction. While this isn’t always the case, the added weight can become a problem causing pain in the back, shoulders, neck, and chest. In severe cases, it can even lead to migraines. When this occurs, it’s essential that you find a bra that fits properly. It will need to have wider straps that will displace the additional weight over the shoulders preventing uneven pressure on the muscles that support the head and neck.


Increased Abnormalities

As you age, the changes in your hormones and how your body deals with and adapts to various factors like stress, illness, diet, and other lifestyle habits can lead to abnormalities. The older you get, the harder it becomes for your body to begin to “roll with the changes.” Little glitches occur that can lead to cysts or abnormal growths that may be mistaken for malignant lumps. Because it is difficult to tell what these abnormalities actually are by doing a breast self-exam, it’s essential that you visit your doctor once a year to have a mammogram. This not only rules out any problems, it will also give you the peace of mind you need to know that your health is still on track.

Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

Your risk of breast cancer naturally increases as you age. Part of the reason for this is a decrease in the number of hormones in the body. There are other factors that increase your cancer risk as well. One of the most notable is your genetic risk. Women with multiple family members who have experienced breast cancer have a much higher risk than women who have very little in their medical history.


Regular Mammograms and Self-Exams

An annual breast cancer screening is the best way to be proactive when it comes to breast cancer and other diseases that affect the breast. As part of a full physical check-up, you are not only assured that your breasts are cancer-free, but the doctor can also identify other potential health issues that you may need to address to prevent them from becoming a problem. When you reach the age of 50, you may need to alter your diet or increase how much you exercise, especially if you want to fend off diseases like arthritis and degenerative bone disease.


Love your body anyway

Learning to love your body can be difficult when it is constantly changing, especially breast changes during menopause. As you grow older and the changes begin to slow down, pay extra attention to the different things you see and feel. Report any abnormalities to your physician and embrace the new you. If you feel that changes need to be made, consult your doctor to find out what options are available to you. You may find that you are more comfortable with your breasts now than when you were younger. They are yours, and with proper care, they can become a positive feature when it comes to your appearance. It’s all up to you!

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