Breast Health at Every Age

Look down at your chest. See those bumps smiling back at you? They are with you for the long haul. You need them and they need you. So you may as well try to make each other happy. You can do this first by picking up some breast healthy habits beginning in your 20s and sticking to them for the rest of your years. Then follow the recommendations set for each age group below—your breast tissue makeup changes over time and your breasts will have different needs at different stages of life.


In Your 20s

Meet Your Breasts

The first and perhaps easiest step in practicing good breast health is to become familiar with the way your breasts normally look and feel. Beginning in your 20s, it is recommended that you perform a monthly self-breast exam after your menstrual cycle. From that point forward, if you ever notice something unusual, you’ll be able to recognize it right away and tell your doctor about it as soon as possible.

Clinical breast exams are also recommended beginning at age 20, and are performed by a qualified healthcare provider as part of your regular check up. In your 20s and 30s, the breasts are often times made of less fat and more dense glandular tissue. At this age, mammography is not typically suggested, as the risks outweigh the benefits. Clinical breast exams and self-breast exams remain the most ideal screening process during this time in a woman’s life. Of course there are individual circumstances, so please be sure to read on!


BreastHealthTimeline_PinkKnow Your Roots

Find out if breast, ovarian, and/or prostate cancer runs in your family. If you do have a family history, it’s never too early to discuss this with your doctor, who may recommend annual screening mammograms, genetic consultation, or even MRIs at an earlier age. The earlier a family member was diagnosed with cancer, the higher your own risk for contracting the disease. It’s in your best interest to keep abreast of the situation (no pun intended).

No family history? ALL women are still at risk. In fact, 75% of women with breast cancer have NO family history. It’s important that you still follow the guidelines for early detection.

(Read More: Guidelines for Early Detection)


Don’t Just Sit There

Living a healthy lifestyle is a no brainer for good health overall, and the earlier you make a habit of it, the better off you’ll be.

First, exercise at least 30 minutes a day every day. Walking, biking, jogging, dancing—whatever physical activity you choose can reduce your breast cancer risk by about 20%, not to mention the boon it brings to your bones, joints, heart, and probably everything else.

Also, while we love a good piece of chocolate, we are also obligated to encourage you to eat healthy. Limit your intake of red meat to no more than 4 oz. a day and avoid processed meats like sausage and bologna. Instead, eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.


In Your 30s

Breastfeed (It’s Cheaper than Formula!)

Some studies have shown that breastfeeding can lower the risk of breast cancer by up to 20%, especially for women who breastfeed for at least 6 months. Plus the whole biological reason for breasts in the first place is to feed babies, so don’t be afraid to use ‘em if you got ‘em.


Be Aware of Other Breast Health Concerns

Women in their 20s and 30s commonly experience some amount of breast pain and/or fibrocystic changes (lumpiness due to hormones). These conditions are uncomfortable and should be discussed with your doctor at your annual clinical exam.


Stick Your Toe in the Mammogram Pool

In addition to continued self and clinical breast exams, many experts advocate for women to start talking to their doctor about when they should get their first mammogram. Likewise, if you’re at a higher risk for breast cancer because of family history or other factors, now is the time when you may want to begin getting annual mammograms, MRIs, or other tests.

(Read More: Confused about Mammography Recommendations?)


In Your 40s

Jump into the Mammogram Pool

Some folks have a tough time turning 40, and the increased breast cancer risk that comes along with that age doesn’t make them feel much better. But this age also brings some new breast health practices that can actually lessen that risk dramatically—if you keep up with them.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women 40 years and older get a mammogram and a clinical breast exam every year. Make sure to keep up with self-breast exams, too.

(Read More: So What is a Mammogram: Screening Vs. Diagnostic)


Be Aware of Other Breast Health Concerns

Women in their 40s are very prone to breast cysts—harmless sacs filled with fluid found inside the breast tissue. Larger cysts can often feel like lumps, but usually this condition is not detected until it appears as an abnormal shadow on a mammogram. Breast ultrasounds are most often recommended in this situation, the most sensitive and accurate technology for the identification and diagnosis of breast cysts.

Breast pain and fibrocystic changes are still common into your 40s, as well.


In Your 50s and Beyond

Stick with the Status Quo

Keep up with self and clinical breast exams, annual mammograms, and healthy lifestyle . . .

From your 50s onward, changes in your hormones will cause the fat content in your face and breasts to decline, leading to shrinkage and waning breast elasticity.

Women age 50 and over have a 1 in 38 chance of breast cancer, a risk that unfortunately only increases with age. If you didn’t think it was important before, it is now vital to keep up with self and clinical breast exams, annual mammograms, and a healthy lifestyle.

Posted in Breast Cancer Detection Guidelines, Diagnostic Mammography, Screening Mammography

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