Normal changes in your breasts
Breasts change a lot over a woman's life. This information will explain what normal changes are and why they have occurred.
Some common reasons for breast change are:
- hormonal changes over each menstrual cycle
- weight loss or gain
At some stage in their lives, many women have a change in their breast that is different to their usual hormonal changes. Most of these changes are not cancerous or harmful, but it’s important that a doctor checks them to make sure.
Ruling out breast cancer
To be confident that your breast change is not cancer or another disease, your doctor will consider:
- your age and family history
- the history of the breast change
- the results of a physical examination and any ultrasounds, mammograms or other tests that are needed
- whether you are still having periods or taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Why do breasts change?
Breasts are made up of milk systems, fat, lymph nodes, veins and nerves. They do not have muscles, but there is some fibrous tissue. Some lumpiness, tissue that feels like a rope or a thick cord, or dense masses of tissue are usually natural and normal.
Usually, normal breast changes develop slowly but you can become suddenely aware of changes, which can make you think that the change has happened overnight.
Breasts are very responsive to hormones in the menstrual cycle or in HRT. Hormones called oestrogens increase before a period, causing milk ducts and glands to swell. This can trap fluid in the breasts and cause swelling and lumpiness.
Young women usually have dense breasts because their milk systems might be needed for feeding babies. Sometimes this thickness is felt as a lump or a mass of tissue. As women age, their milk systems shrink and are replaced by fat. By menopause, most women’s breasts are completely soft. This can make normal lumps more noticeable.
Sometimes women find their breasts feel different when they lose or gain weight and sometimes breasts change for no obvious reason. Your doctor might not be able to explain why the change in your breast has happened. If you feel frustrated by this, it is important to talk openly about your feelings with your doctor and other supportive people.
Do breast changes increase the risk of getting cancer?
The normal changes that you have in your breast do not put you at any increased risk of breast cancer. You should, however, follow the recommendations for screening for breast cancer for women of your age and family history.
All women need to be alert to any changes in their breasts that are not usual for them. If you have any change in your breasts that is different to your usual hormonal changes, you should have it checked by your doctor.
For most women, having an unusual breast change is upsetting. It can bring up many different feelings and worries. It’s understandable to fear cancer. It’s also common to find tests stressful and invasive.
Most of the time women feel relieved to know that their breast change is not cancerous or harmful. Sometimes, however, women keep worrying about getting cancer. Some find that their breast change affects how they feel about themselves, their sexuality or relationships.
If your breast change is having a negative impact on your life, it might help to share your feelings with supportive family members or friends. You could also get information or advice from your GP or a Women’s Health Nurse at your local community health centre.
Breast changes - what’s normal
Breast changes occur over a woman's life. This information sheet will explain what are normal changes in your breasts and why they have occurred.
- Breast changes - what’s normal
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