How Menopause Affects Your Breasts.
There’s a good reason why menopause is called “the change of
life.” It can affect just about every part of your body, including your
During perimenopause -- the years before your periods stop --
you’ll start to notice changes in the size and shape of your breasts.
You may also notice that they feel tender and achy at unexpected times.
Or they may be lumpier than they used to be.
You’ll want to know what’s normal, what’s not, and what
helps. That knowledge empowers you to make a smooth midlife transition
and feel your best during menopause and beyond.
Your Breasts on Menopause
There are three common ways menopause and perimenopause can affect your breasts.
1. Tenderness or pain.
Why It Happens: Before your period, fluid
builds up in your breasts, making them feel more swollen, tender, or
painful than other times of the month. Because the hormonal changes of
perimenopause make your cycle irregular, breast soreness can strike
unpredictably, according to the National Cancer Institute.
What You Can Do About It:
If your breasts hurt, wearing the right bra can make a big
difference: 85% of women with breast pain gained relief when they wore a
well-fitted sports bra, according to a 2014 study. The same researchers
found that relaxation techniques or massaging achy breasts with
over-the-counter pain creams was helpful for up to 60% of women.
If breast pain is severe or won’t go away, talk to your doctor.
2. Changes in breast size and shape
Why It Happens: As you near menopause, your levels of
estrogen drop dramatically. As your milk system starts to shut down,
glandular tissue in your breasts shrinks. That causes them to become
less dense and more fatty, which can lead to sagging. You may also
notice that your breasts aren’t as full as they used to be, and their
size may change.
What You Can Do About It: Time to hit the gym or invest in some hand-held weights!
Although there’s no proven way to reverse sagging, exercise
makes your breasts look better by developing and toning the muscles
underneath. Working out regularly also has another important perk:
You’ll be less likely to get breast cancer. Good ways to tone your chest
muscles include pushups and lifting weights.
Some lingerie styles, such as a pushup or underwire bra, can
give you a youthful lift. For maximum boost and support, make sure your
bra fits correctly: By some estimates, up 70% of women are wearing the
After menopause, you may need to go big when you shop for
bras: A recent study found that 1 in 5 women went up a bra size after
menopause (typically due to weight gain), but only 1 in 50 needed a
3. Lumpy Breasts
Why It Happens:There are several reasons why
this can happen during perimenopause, including normal aging and
hormonal changes. Just like at any age, though, you’ll need to see your
doctor to find out what the lumps are.
You could have cysts, fluid-filled sacs that are very common.
They can feel like grapes and aren’t cancerous. Many women, of all
ages, have them. Sometimes they go away after menopause, but they can
stick around, especially if you take hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Fibrocystic changes are another common reason for lumpy,
painful breasts and areas that feel rubbery to the touch. They don’t
make you more likely to get breast cancer. Nor do cysts.
What You Can Do About It: Some women find when they cut
down on caffeine, their breasts are less tender. You can also apply
heat -- try a warm compress -- to the painful area or use
over-the-counter pain relievers.
When to Check With Your Doctor
Most midlife breast changes are normal. But you can’t be sure
on your own. Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these problems:
A lump or a firm or thick area in your breast or under your arm.
Nipple discharge fluid or changes, such as a nipple that becomes sunken into the breast, also called "inverted."
Skin changes, such as redness, dimpling, puckering, or ridges that look like orange peel.
Unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast, especially on one side only.
Most of the time, breast changes are not cancer, but it’s important to get any new or unusual symptom checked out quickly.
Also talk to your doctor about how often you should get
mammograms, since guidelines vary. The American Cancer Society
recommends one every year, starting when you’re 45. Other groups advise
every 2 years when you turn 50 until you’re 74.
You may need to start sooner if you’re at high risk.
Your doctor can help you decide what’s best for you.