Our breasts will change over the course of our lives; what is normal and what is abnormal? It is important to have regular mammograms if you are over 50 or have a family history of breast cancer. But what about those months in between if you have a mammogram every year or every other year? It is a good idea to be familiar with your breasts knowing what is normal and what is not for you. Monitoring your breast health is important for women of all ages, and even more important when going through menopause or peri-menopause.
Throughout the years, breasts will change slightly in their shape and feel. Some of the most common areas of change are as follows.
Lumpiness: Some women have more dense tissue which can cause the breasts to feel lumpy. Younger women will also have denser breast tissue.
Swelling and tenderness: Most women will experience some form of swelling or tenderness around their period. For peri-menopausal or menopausal women, the breasts can still feel uncomfortable even if you actually do not have a period that month.
Menopause and peri-menopause: During this time your breasts will respond to fluctuating hormonal levels and you might have discomfort long before or after your usual time of the month.
Nipples: Sometimes a small amount of discharge can occur after breastfeeding or due to some types of medications. Women who are very athletic, particularly runners, may notice chafing and slight bleeding around the nipples. These cases are usually temporary.
Abnormal things to check
Lumpiness: Any new lumps that appear in the breast or underarm area should be checked out. They will not necessarily be painful but can be small and hard to the touch. Have your doctor examine your breast more thoroughly to determine if a lump is a cyst or something more serious.
Swelling and tenderness: You may notice an increase in swelling and tenderness during menopause, but any sudden and more drastic changes could indicate a more serious condition.
Breast shape and appearance: Your breasts will likely change and lose some firmness during the aging process. Most women will have one breast that is slightly larger than the other; usually the breast on your dominant or writing hand side. Be on the lookout for dramatic changes such as puckering of the breast skin.
Other things to watch out for include any scaliness or redness of the breast skin, intense itchiness of the breast or nipples, unexplained or bloody discharge (that is not from friction while exercising) from one or both nipples, and any dimpling or skin that looks a little like an orange peel.
Knowing your breasts’ shape and appearance will help keep you alert to the changes you will experience during menopause. Understanding what is normal and what is abnormal is an important part of knowing your body’s characteristics. Be on the lookout for any sudden or unusual changes and be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You