As we get older, our bodies change. You might see new lines on your face or notice that your joints ache more than they used to. You may also notice that your breasts are a different size or shape than they were when you were younger.
Changes to your breasts are a normal part of aging. Changes in firmness or size are very common, especially after menopause. However, some changes can be a symptom of health problems, and it’s important to know when you should be concerned.
Learn more about how breasts change as you age and when you should see a doctor about changes in your breasts.
Breasts start forming while a baby is still developing. Milk ducts form as part of a baby's growth, though they won’t fully mature until much later in life. Once the hormone changes for puberty begin, breasts get bigger, and the mammary glands get ready to produce milk in the event of pregnancy.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding bring more changes to your breasts. Breasts grow larger, and your nipples increase in size and may get darker in color. The duct system starts producing milk for your newborn baby. These changes can cause stretch marks in your skin that remain on your breasts for the rest of your life.
As you enter menopause and your levels of estrogen start to decrease, your breasts change yet again. They might look and feel different than they did when you were younger.
Common Breast Changes
There are some common changes that you can expect in your breasts as you get older. In general, changes to your breasts aren’t a health issue and are just part of the aging process.
Size. Breasts can get smaller over time. As estrogen levels decrease, your breast tissue changes. The tissue in your breasts gets dehydrated and isn’t as elastic as it used to be. This can lead to a loss of volume, and your breasts may shrink as much as a cup size.
Shape. The estrogen-related changes that make breasts shrink can lead to your breasts sagging as well. When breast tissue weakens, the skin stretches, and gravity pulls them downward. You may notice these changes increase the space between breasts as well.
Firmness. Your mammary glands decrease in size over time. Your breasts will seem more soft or fatty than their regular shape when this happens. Your breast will feel softer and be more likely to sag.
Nipple changes. You might notice that your nipples change as well. It’s common for nipples to become smaller, and the area around them, called the areola, almost vanishes.
Lumps. Older breasts may be more prone to lumps or bumps. Most of the time, the lumps are harmless cysts, but you should call your doctor to discuss any new lumps in your breasts. These lumps can be a sign of cancer.
Causes for Concern
Not all breast changes are part of the aging process. Some changes can be symptoms of health problems, including breast cancer. You should call your doctor if you notice any of the following changes to your breasts:
- New lump in your breast or your armpit
- New redness or flaky skin on your breast or nipple.
- Thickening or swelling of your breast
- Dimpling in your breast skin
- Receding of the nipple
- Nipple discharge
- Breast pain
If you have any of these issues, your doctor may suggest that you have a mammogram to look for cancer. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor can guide you through your treatment options.
Can You Reverse Changes to Your Breasts?
You may not like the way your breasts look as you get older. You can help make your breasts look better under your clothes by getting supportive bras. Some stores have staff who can help you with fitting and get the right bra for your body.
Sometimes, improving your upper body fitness can help make breasts seem firmer. Talk to a trainer about exercises you can do to strengthen your chest, back, and shoulders muscles.
If you want a permanent option, you can talk to a plastic surgeon about a breast lift or breast implants. Both of these operations will change the size, firmness, and position of your breasts. Breast lifts and breast implants are surgeries. They come with a variety of risks, so tell your doctor about your overall health before deciding on either operation.