Austin Women's Health Center Blog&Inspiration

Understanding Breast Health At Any Age

July 9, 2024

In the United States, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer death. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, with about 42,000 women dying from this cancer each year.

Women must understand their risk factors and undergo appropriate screenings. Screening before symptoms appear can help detect cancers early, before they have spread, offering the best chance for successful treatment.

This blog will explore key aspects of breast health, including the significance of regular mammograms after age 40, understanding normal and abnormal breast changes after 40, the increased risk of cancer with age, and the importance of self-exams to stay familiar with what is normal for each individual.

Regular Mammograms After Age 40

Mammograms are X-ray examinations of the breast that can detect tumors that are too small to be felt. The American Cancer Society recommends that women begin receiving annual mammograms at age 40. This recommendation is based on the fact that breast cancer is more likely to occur as women age, and early detection is crucial for successful treatment.

Mammograms can identify abnormalities at an early stage when they are most treatable. They can detect calcifications, cysts, and tumors, including those too small to be felt during a physical examination. Regular mammograms significantly increase the chances of detecting breast cancer early, which can lead to more effective and less invasive treatment options.

Benefits of Regular Mammograms

Early Detection

Identifies cancer before symptoms develop.

Increased Survival Rates

Early-stage breast cancers have higher treatment success rates.

Better Treatment Options

Early detection allows for less aggressive treatments.

Peace of Mind

Regular screening provides reassurance and can reduce anxiety about breast health.

Breast Changes After 40: What Is Normal and What Is Not?

As women age, their bodies undergo various changes, and the breasts are no exception. Understanding what changes are normal and which ones should be a cause for concern is essential for maintaining breast health.

Normal Changes

Density Reduction

Breasts often become less dense and more fatty with age, making mammograms more accurate.


Skin elasticity and gravitational pull loss can cause breasts to sag.

Tenderness and Lumpiness

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly around menopause, can cause breasts to feel tender or lumpy.

Size Changes

 Hormonal changes can also increase or decrease breast size.

Abnormal Changes

Lumps That Don’t Go Away

A healthcare provider should evaluate any new lump that persists for more than a few weeks.

Nipple Discharge

Unexplained discharge, particularly if bloody or occurring without squeezing, should be investigated.

Skin Changes

Dimpling, redness, or changes in skin texture can indicate underlying issues.

Nipple Retraction

If a nipple starts to turn inward or becomes inverted, it should be checked by a doctor.

Understanding the difference between normal and abnormal changes helps women seek medical advice promptly if needed, which can be crucial for early diagnosis and treatment of breast issues, including cancer.

Increased Risks of Cancer with Age

Age is one of the most significant risk factors for breast cancer. The likelihood of developing breast cancer increases as women get older, with most breast cancers diagnosed in women over 50.

Why Risk Increases

Accumulation of Genetic Mutations

Over time, cells accumulate mutations, increasing the likelihood of cancerous changes.

Hormonal Changes

Post-menopausal hormonal shifts can promote the growth of certain types of breast cancer.

Longer Exposure to Estrogen

Women who have been exposed to estrogen for a longer period (early menstruation and late menopause) have a higher risk.


– **By Age 50**: About 1 in 42 women will develop breast cancer.

– **By Age 60**: The risk increases to about 1 in 28.

– **By Age 70**: Approximately 1 in 26 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Understanding these risks underscores the importance of regular screenings and being vigilant about breast health as women age.

Disturbingly, recent years have seen an increase in cancer diagnoses among younger individuals, including both colon and breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in women aged 20 to 49. Younger women often have more aggressive cancers at diagnosis compared to older women.

This trend is particularly concerning for Black women. According to a 2023 study published on JAMA Network, the death rate from breast cancer among Black women in their 40s was 27 per 100,000 person-years, compared to 15 per 100,000 person-years among White women.

Importance of Self-Exams

Self-exams are a proactive way for women to stay familiar with their breasts and notice any changes early. Although self-exams are not a substitute for professional screenings, they play a vital role in breast health awareness.

How to Perform a Self-Exam

  1. Visual Inspection: Stand in front of a mirror with shoulders straight and arms on hips. Look for any changes in size, shape, and color.
  1. Physical Examination: Use the pads of your fingers to feel your entire breast and armpit area. Do this while lying down and standing (such as in the shower).

Benefits of Self-Exams

Early Detection

Regular self-exams help women detect changes early.

Increased Awareness

Familiarity with one’s own breasts can help in noticing even subtle changes.


Taking an active role in one’s own health can lead to better outcomes.

What to Look For


Any unusual lumps or thickening.

Changes in Skin Texture

Dimpling or puckering.

Nipple Changes

Discharge, inversion, or pain.

Redness or Scaling

Unexplained redness or rash.

Breast health is a critical aspect of overall health for women, especially as we age. 

Regular mammograms starting at age 40, understanding normal versus abnormal breast changes, recognizing the increased risk of cancer with age, and performing self-exams are all vital components of maintaining breast health. 

By being proactive and informed, we can take charge of our breast health, leading to early detection and better outcomes in case of any issues. 

Prioritizing breast health is about preventing disease and ensuring overall well-being and peace of mind.