How Breasts Change With Age

Hormone Shifts and Gravity Work Together

Breast tissue shifts in composition and shape as we age. A premenopausal adult woman's breasts are made up of fat, tissue, and mammary glands. As menopause approaches, levels of the hormone estrogen drop, and the mammary glands estrogen stimulates are reduced. Shrinking mammary glands can be replaced by fat, which results in softer, less full breasts.

Older woman looking out of a window
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In addition, the connective tissue within the breast breaks down and this loss of internal scaffolding can cause breast sag. Other factors like the number of pregnancies, smoking, weight gain, and genetics can all play a role in how saggy your breasts become. Breastfeeding has largely been discounted as a cause of breast droop.

Tissue Changes

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), lumps in the breast are not unusual during menopause and are often benign (non-cancerous) cysts. Most breast changes are not cancerous, reports the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). You may feel tenderness or lumps in your breasts even if you are not having a period during menopause, and these changes don't mean something is wrong.

However, there are a number of changes that you should check out promptly with your health-care provider, without waiting for your next physical exam or mammogram. These include:

  • A hard lump or bump on the breast or under your arm
  • Change in shape or size of your breast
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Itchy, red or scaly skin on the breast

Breast Cancer Risk

One of the greatest risk factors for breast cancer is advancing age. Your risk of being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer jumps at about age 40 and peaks at age 70. According to American Cancer Society, women have the following chances of getting breast cancer by decade, over the age of 40:

Age 40: 1.5 percent (or 1 in 65)
Age 50: 2.4 percent (or 1 in 42)
Age 60:  3.5 percent (or 1 in 28)
Age 70:  4.1 percent (or 1 in 25)

Factors like a personal history of breast cancer, family medical history, alcohol intake, physical inactivity and being obese or overweight can increase your chances of developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends getting both a clinical breast exam and a mammogram once a year after the age of 40.

A breast self-exam is a valuable way to become familiar with what is normal for your body but is not a substitute for a doctor's exam or mammogram. The American Cancer Society breast exam recommendations has developed recommendations for breast exams.

Finally, most women do experience changes in the way their breasts look and feel over the course of their lifetime. Fortunately, most of these shifts are simply cosmetic changes related to aging, rather than signs of more serious age-related diseases.

If you feel your breasts just aren't what they used to be, you may want to have a professional bra fitting to make sure you're wearing the right bra shape and size for your changing body.

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  1. Hahn-Holbrook J, Schetter CD, Haselton M. Chapter 17: Breastfeeding and maternal mental and physical health. In: Women’s Health Psychology. Hoboken: Wiley; 2012.

  2. NIH National Cancer Institute. Breast changes and conditions. Updated October 23, 2018.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What are the symptoms? Updated September 14, 2020.

  4. American Cancer Society. Breast cancer facts & figures 2019-2020.