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Aging changes in the breast

With age, a woman's breasts lose fat, tissue, and mammary glands. Many of these changes are due to the decrease in the body's production of estrogen that occurs at menopause. Without estrogen, the gland tissue shrinks, making the breasts smaller and less full. The connective tissue that supports the breasts becomes less elastic, so the breasts sag.

Changes also occur in the nipple. The area surrounding the nipple (the areola) becomes smaller and may nearly disappear. The nipple may also turn in slightly.

Lumps are common around the time of menopause. These are often noncancerous cysts. However, if you notice a lump, make an appointment with your health care provider, because breast cancer risk increases with age. Women should be aware of the benefits and limitations of breast self-exams. These exams do not always pick up early stages of breast cancer. Women should talk to their providers about mammograms.

References

Davidson NE. Breast cancer and benign breast disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 198.

Walston JD. Common clinical sequelae of aging. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 25.

Review Date 8/22/2016

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.