Healthy after 50: Five things you should know about your breasts and breast cancer

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Although they’ve been with you for your entire adult life, your breasts may not be at the forefront of your day-to-day thinking.

Many women who come to my clinic assume that as they grow older and their bodies change, so too will their breasts. While this is true to an extent, to increase awareness of breast cancer symptoms it is important to know which changes are ‘normal’, and which are not.

Breast Cancer Queensland recently published an excellent informative article called Five things you should know about your boobs and breast cancer that I wanted to summarise for you here.


1. Life changes = breast changes

Your breasts are not immune to the changes your body goes through during menopause. During menopause, breasts are more likely to soften and drop both pre- and post-menopause as fat cells increase in the area, glandular tissue diminishes, and supportive elastic tissue stretches.

Some medications prescribed for treating menopause can also have an impact on your breast health. Taking combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) over a long period has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, however oestrogen-only HRT has not. Cancer Australia has more information on breast cancer and HRT, including recommendations you may wish to read.

2. Bumpy breasts are not a fact of life

As well as softening and dropping, many women over 50 notice their breasts have lumps or cysts. However it is vital if you find a lump, have nipple discharge or any other change that concerns you that you see your GP as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t notice any physical signs of lumps and bumps in your breasts, it is important for women aged 50-75 to have a breast screen every two years as breast screening can detect cancerous tissue that is invisible to the hand or naked eye.

3. There’s no need to be embarrassed by a breast screen

Unfortunately, fear of embarrassment or anxiety about the screening procedure are common deterrents for women from having a breast screen. Although it may be a little uncomfortable, just remember a few minutes of discomfort far outweigh the alternative.

4. Getting older increases your breast cancer risk

Unfortunately, the two biggest known risks to developing breast cancer are simply being female and getting older. More than 75 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50 – and while you may think you’re in the clear if you haven’t a family history of the disease, the reality is that nine out of 10 women diagnosed don’t have a family history.

5. Healthy breasts, healthy you

While age does increase your change of developing breast cancer, it’s not all doom and gloom! There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, including remaining active every day, maintaining a healthy body weight, and limiting your alcohol consumption to one standard drink or less a day.

Importantly, undergoing breast screens and regular self-checks are the most effective ways of detecting breast cancer early, which greatly increases your rate of survival and treatment options. With the help of early detection, the five-year breast cancer survival rate has increased to 90 per cent.

Remember...

A breast screen only takes 30 minutes of your day and is a must every two years for women aged between 50 and 74.

For tips on breast self-examination, visit the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation by clicking here.