Keeping Your Breasts Healthy

Younger women normally worry that their breast may not be the right size of the perfect shape. A decade or so later, mature women worry that they’re breast will start to sag after childbirth and breastfeeding. After menopause, women worry about breast cancer.

But throughout their lifetime, there’s one thing women think about that is constant: the desire for healthy breasts for a lifetime.

In your 30s

Breasts are made of fibrous tissue, fatty tissue and dense glandular tissue which includes the lobules (milk-producing glands) and ducts to carry the milk. Breasts do not contain muscles.

In your 30s, breast problems, fortunately, are usually benign. Younger women often experience fibrocystic breast disease which refers to a number of conditions characterized by breast pain, cysts and noncancerous lumpiness.

In a WebMD.com article, Dr. Leona Downey, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center says:

"Breast pain can be cyclic, coming with menstrual periods, or it can be more persistent."

To avoid or ease breast pain, Dr. Elizabeth Steiner, director of the Oregon Cancer Institute Breast Health Education Program, recommends avoiding caffeine.

Dr. Downey further adds that fibroadenomas can also occur in women in their 30s. Fibroadenomas are rubbery lumps that are made of fibrous and glandular tissue. These lumps are noncancerous but they can cause much pain. If the pain is intolerable of they are bothersome, fibroadenomas can be surgically removed.

Sagging breasts

The 30s is usually the time for childbearing, which also means, the time for breastfeeding. During this period, women worry that their breasts will start to sag because of breastfeeding.

But the truth is, it’s not breastfeeding that causes the breasts to sag. Rather, during lactation, the skin around the breasts stretches. Thus when your breasts shrink against your skin, the area around your breasts is looser making them look saggy.

In 2007, a study presented at an American Society of Plastic Surgeons conference cleared breastfeeding as a cause for breast to sag. Rather, it pointed at a number of other things that may cause breasts to sag, including: bigger pre-pregnancy bra cup size; greater number of pregnancies; smoking and older age.

As you get older, the breasts get less glandular and less fatty, making them less firm.Another factor that may cause sagging is the stretching of fibrous glands called Cooper’s ligaments in the breasts. "They’re fibrous tissue that holds the breast up a bit, and those can stretch over time and that leads to some of the sagging, too," Downey says.

Downey advises women to wear sports bras during exercising. Sports bras prevent bouncing, which causes the ligaments to stretch. "Wearing a tight-fitting bra on a regular basis probably doesn’t make a big difference," Downey says.

Low breast cancer risk

Breast cancer is actually uncommon. According to the National Cancer Institute, in women aged 30-39, only one in 229 will be  diagnosed with breast cancer.

Unless there is a strong family history of breast cancer, women need not have a mammogram. Actually, younger women’s denser breast tissue makes it more difficult to detect breast cancers on mammograms. However, it is still important to be checked regularly by your doctor for lumps, skin dimpling and other signs of breast cancer. Downey also encourages women to report changes in the appearance of their breasts and any lasting pain to their doctor.

"Many of these things that cause breast pain in young women are going to turn out to be benign, but there are breast cancers that happen in young women," Downey says. "My advice is, just because you’re young and you’re less likely to have a cancer doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get it looked at."

Though the American Cancer Society has declared them optional, monthly breast self-exams are still encouraged by doctors if only to help women familiarize themselves with their breasts so they can report if there are any changes.

For premenopausal women, Steiner advises that the ideal time to check your breasts is 5-10 days after the beginning of your period before premenstrual lumpiness appears.

In your 40s

When a woman reaches 40, her breasts would have undergone more changes. The breasts contain more fat by now, and less glandular tissue which leads to more sagging.

According to the Revlon/UCLA Breast Cancer, cysts are the most common lumps found in women in their 40s. However, cysts can develop at other ages. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are not cancerous, but can be very painful. To relieve the pain caused by cysts, doctors can drain these sacs or surgically remove them.

Other conditions such as atypical ductal hyperplasia start during your 40s. Atypical ducta hyperplasia are abnormal cells in the milk ducts which may increase a woman’s risks of breast cancer.

Figures show that the risks of developing breast cancer increase during this age. A women aged 40-49 now has a one in 68 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Thus it is important to gt mammogram screenings.

Though false positives happen fairly often, the National Cancer Institute recommends getting a mammogram at age 40, then once a year or every other year afterward. Women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer should ask their doctor if they should have mammogram screening before they are 40.

The following are breast changes that the National Cancer Institute urges you to report to your doctor:

  • 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

Underwire bras, antiperspirants or trauma to the breasts have not been proven to increase the risks of breast cancer.

In your 50s

After menopause, the breasts become even fattier and shrink further because the milk-producing glands are no longer needed.

"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."

And this is why lumps get your doctor’s attention. According the National Cancer Institute, most breast cancers occur in women over 50. The figures back this up. From ages 50-59, a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is at 1 in 37.

Once you reach 50, doctors recommend your mammogram every year. Also once you reach this age, it is much easier for your doctors to detect breast cancers because breasts are less dense thus less likely to obscure tumors.

Also in WebMD.com article, 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 is also advisable to keep your weight in check. Research show that the risks of developing breast cancer after menopause are higher in overweight womens.