Can Menopause Cause Breast Changes?

It is common for menopause to cause your breasts to become smaller or saggier—and sometimes, larger—than normal.

It is normal for your breasts to develop and change throughout your lifetime. You may even notice changes—including pain and swelling—ahead of your period. But what happens to your breasts once you reach menopause?

Per the National Institute of Aging, menopause occurs 12 months after your last period, usually between ages 45 and 55 years. During the time around your last period (also known as perimenopause), it is not uncommon to experience several changes—heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding, hot flashes, mood changes, and differences in your body.

One of those differences that you may notice is changes to the shape of your breasts. They may become saggier, larger, or smaller than normal. So, what about menopause causes those changes? Here's what you need to know about why and how breasts change shape as you age.

Woman covering her breasts with her arm.
Piotr Marcinski / Adobe Stock

What Happens to Your Breasts During Premenopause?

One of the biggest changes that happen to your breasts leading up to and around menopause is that they lose their elasticity. That is what causes your breasts to look saggier than normal, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

Your nipples may also change as you near menopause. They can shrink, and your areolas may become inverted. You may also notice small bumps near your nipples. Those are called intraductal papillomas, and they may produce discharge or bleed, per the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. If a papilloma becomes uncomfortable, you can consult your healthcare provider about surgically removing the bump.

You may also feel lumps in your breast. Lumps due to menopause are not uncommon, and they are often benign. However, the risk of breast cancer increases as you age, per the National Library of Medicine. So, you should receive a yearly breast cancer screening and consult your healthcare provider if you feel lumps in your breasts.

What Causes Breast Changes Ahead of Menopause?

In the times leading up to and around menopause, the amount of estrogen in your body gradually decreases, Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., told Health. Estrogen is a hormone that usually promotes breast growth.

According to the National Library of Medicine, a lack of estrogen affects your mammary glands—which normally produce milk during your reproductive years—and causes them to condense. As a result, your breasts shrink.

Likewise, decreasing estrogen makes the tissue in your breasts loses its elasticity. That is what causes your breasts to lose their shape and become saggier than normal.

If you are taking hormone therapy to quell the symptoms of menopause—like hot flashes and mood changes—you may also notice pain and swelling in your breasts. That is because the hormone therapy mimics the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome as you replenish the lost estrogen in your body.

Can Your Breasts Become Larger as You Age?

Although it is especially common to notice your breasts and nipples becoming smaller than normal as you reach menopause, some healthcare providers point out that they may also enlarge.

"This is a real thing," Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and author of Hot Flash Hell, told Health.

There are a few possible factors that cause your breasts to enlarge before and during menopause. One explanation is that some people naturally gain weight as they age.

"It's just one of those things that [cisgender women] can experience during this midlife transition," Jennifer Wider, MD, author of The Savvy Woman Patient, explained to Health.

"During perimenopause and menopause, there are hormonal fluctuations and eventually a drop in hormones that may cause weight gain," said Dr. Wider. "As a result, some of the weight gain can occur in the breasts, resulting in enlarged breasts."

However, it's not all about weight gain. Dr. Streicher explained that hormonal shifts during perimenopause could cause a redistribution of weight, sometimes causing the breasts to enlarge.

Genetics can play a role, as well. In a study published in 2012 in the journal BMC Medical Genetics, researchers found that some people are genetically predisposed to having large breasts. However, the researchers also stated that it is not clear what specific genes influence breast size.

The Bottom Line on Breast Changes and Menopause

If you notice changes to your breasts leading up to and around menopause, you should not worry. It is typical for your breasts to lose their shape and become smaller or larger or feel lumpier than normal. You may even notice that your nipples change their shape. All of those changes occur as your body produces less and less estrogen.

"Breast changes in menopause are a real thing," noted Dr. Streicher.

However, it is always a good idea to consult your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your breasts. Lumps and inverted nipples are among the most common symptoms of breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yearly screenings can help detect breast cancer early.

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