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A Lifetime of Healthy Breasts

A guide to keeping your breasts healthy now and in the years to come.
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Your Breasts in Your 40s continued...

The medical community has debated the benefits of mammography for women in their 40s, in part because false positives can lead to unnecessary anxiety and procedures.

The National Cancer Institute recommends getting a first mammogram at age 40 and then one subsequently every one to two years afterward. However, women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer should ask their doctors about starting mammogram screening before 40.

The National Cancer Institute also urges all women to report the following breast changes to their doctors:

  • A lump in or near your breast or underarm
  • Thick or firm tissue in or near your breast or underarm
  • Nipple discharge or tenderness
  • A nipple pulled back or inverted into the breast
  • Itching or skin changes, such as redness, scales, dimples, or puckers
  • A change in breast size or shape

But don't worry about underwire bras, antiperspirants, or trauma to the breast increasing your risk, Steiner says. None of these has been proven to promote breast cancer.

Your Breasts in Your 50s

After menopause, the breasts not only become fattier but will shrink because women no longer need the milk-producing glands for breastfeeding.

"We lose the hormonal effect on our glandular tissue in our breasts, and over time that tissue atrophies," Steiner says. "That's a time when women notice their breasts are less firm, certainly less tender if they've had problems with tenderness, and they're less lumpy."

While harmless lumps may come and go with the menstrual cycle in younger women, any new lump that appears after menopause requires a doctor's prompt attention, Steiner says.

Most breast cancers occur in women over age 50, according to the National Cancer Institute. From ages 50 to 59, a woman's chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer stands at 1 in 37.

In the 50s decade, experts advise women to get mammograms every year.

The good news? Doctors have an easier time detecting breast cancers in older women because breast density is less likely to obscure tumors. Dawn Hershman, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, says, "As the fat content increases, the sensitivity of the mammogram often increases."

It's also smart to keep your weight under control. Research has shown that the chances of developing breast cancer after menopause are higher in overweight or obese women.

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Reviewed on September 04, 2011
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