Throughout your lifetime, your breasts undergo continual change. Some women experience monthly differences related to their menstrual cycle and pregnancy typically causes a variety of changes. Menopause, another time of hormone fluctuation, also causes your breasts to change. Most menopausal developments in the breasts are harmless, although risk of some health conditions increases.
Effects of Menopause
Hormone changes during menopause cause physical changes in the breasts, although not all of them are immediately noticeable. Falling estrogen levels cause shrinkage of the milk glands and milk ducts, or glandular tissue, experts from Rush University Medical Center explain. The connective tissues, which surround the glandular tissues, lose elasticity. As you approach menopause, your breasts are increasingly likely to develop benign cysts, small sacks containing fluid.
Over time, loss of glandular tissue causes the breasts to become smaller. This, combined with the connective tissue's reduced elasticity, causes the breasts to lose their shape and sag. Some changes, such as benign cysts, may also make your breasts feel lumpier. If you take hormone replacement therapy, such as estrogen and progesterone, however, you may notice your breasts are firmer, but they may also become tender.
During menopause, fluctuating estrogen levels can leave breasts feeling sore. Benign cysts, while usually harmless, may also feel tender or sore. The good news is menopause can bring an end to breast tenderness or pain associated with menstrual periods, including pain from fibrocystic breast changes, or benign lumps.
Risk of Breast Cancer
For women in their 60s, risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 27, warn experts at the nonprofit organization Breastcancer.org. Going through menopause after the age of 55 and taking hormone replacement therapy increase the risk. Fortunately, because breasts become more fatty and less dense during menopause, potentially dangerous lumps are easier to find.
Keeping Your Breasts Healthy
Many menopausal breast changes, such as size reduction and benign cysts, pose no health threats. Some benign cysts may cause pain, but your doctor can treat these cysts by draining them. Your increased risk for breast cancer, however, makes monitoring for unusual changes essential. Performing breast self-exams and getting regular mammograms can help. If you notice redness or pulling in of the nipple or experience breast pain or swelling, consult your health-care provider. These changes may indicate only a minor problem, but they do merit concern.