Thanks to the abundance of information available about breast cancer symptoms, more women are taking charge of their breast health and reporting back to their doctors about unusual or suspicious changes in their breasts. While it’s better to be armed with this knowledge than not to be, it’s also important to note that there are times during a woman’s life when her breasts will change, and it is not an indicator of cancer.“Breast changes are part of the normal aging process,” explains Tina Stein, MD, radiologist at Riddle Hospital.
Familiarizing yourself with what changes typically occur can prepare you for what to expect and make it less alarming when you notice a change in the landscape of your breast. Below are a few times during a woman’s life when she is most likely to experience changes in her breast.
During your period
Up to two weeks before your period, your breasts may feel swollen, tender or painful, and you may even notice extra lumps in your breast. These are a result of extra fluid and usually go away by the end of your cycle.
During pregnancy, the glands in your breasts that produce milk are increasing in number and size in preparation for baby. As a result, your breasts may feel lumpier than usual.
If you’re breastfeeding
Some breastfeeding women experience a condition called mastitis, when a milk duct in the breast is blocked. This can cause your breast to look red and feel warm, lumpy and tender. You can talk to your OB/GYN about treatment options for mastitis.
In the years leading up to menopause, you’ll notice that your period may come less often and your hormone levels will change. This can make your breasts feel tender, even if you don’t have your period.
While you’re taking medication
Hormone therapy, birth control pills or injections can all make your breasts more dense, which make mammograms more difficult to interpret. Let your doctor know if you’re taking hormones.
“Most of these changes are not cancer and will be benign, but don’t wait until your next mammogram to make an appointment and be sure,” Dr. Stein cautions.