Breast health is not, and never has been, a one-size-fits-all prescription. The general principles are the same whether you’re in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, but how you apply them changes with time. That’s because options in your 30s are different from those you confront in your 40s or 50s.
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Following is a decade-by-decade guide to your breast health.
Your Breasts in Your 30s
During this decade, hormones like estrogen help to keep breasts firm. Breasts contain no muscles. Rather, they consist of fibrous tissue, fatty tissue, plus dense glandular tissue that includes milk-producing glands called lobules and ducts to carry milk.
Fortunately, in the 30s, breast problems tend to be benign (noncancerous). Younger women commonly experience fibrocystic breast disease, a broad term that is characterized by breast pain, cysts, and noncancerous lumpiness. Fibroadenomas can also affect women in their 30s. These rubbery lumps made of fibrous and glandular tissue aren’t cancerous, but they can hurt. If they’re bothersome, they can be surgically removed.
During this decade, which has become more popular for childbearing, breastfeeding offers mothers some long-term protection against breast cancer. But some women worry that breastfeeding will cause breast sagging. Experts say that nursing doesn’t actually cause breast tissue to droop. Instead, breast swelling during lactation can stretch the skin over the breast.
Things that contribute to sagging include: larger pre-pregnancy bra cup size, greater number of pregnancies, cigarette smoking (which can weaken skin elasticity), and older age. As the years go by, breasts become less glandular and fattier, which makes them less firm.
You can’t do much to slow or prevent sagging. Because the breasts contain no muscles, you can’t really exercise your way to a perkier chest. However, some doctors advise women to wear sports bras during jogging to prevent bouncing that can stretch the ligaments. Breast cancer is uncommon; women aged 30-39 have a risk of only one in 229 of being diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Unless there’s a strong family history of breast cancer, women in their 30s don’t need mammogram screening. In fact, younger women’s denser breast tissue makes it harder to detect breast cancers on mammograms.
However, regular manual breast exams by your doctor are crucial to check for lumps, skin dimpling, and other signs of breast cancer, according to experts.
Your Breasts in Your 40s
During the 40s, breast shape continues to change for most women. After menopause, the breast has less glandular tissue but more fat, leading to more sagging.