The Revlon/UCLA Breast Center reports that cysts are the most common type of breast lump seen in women during their 40s, although cysts can develop at other ages as well. These fluid-filled sacs aren’t cancerous, but they can be painful. Doctors can drain or surgically remove them.
Cellular changes like atypical ductal hyperplasia may also begin during this decade, Downey says. These abnormal cells in the milk ducts increase a woman’s chances of breast cancer.
The numbers show that breast cancer risk rises during this decade; a woman between the ages of 40 and 49 now has a one in 68 chance of being diagnosed. Therefore, mammogram screening enters the picture.
The medical community has debated the benefits of mammography for women in their 40s, in part because false positives can lead to unnecessary anxiety and procedures.
The National Cancer Institute recommends getting a first mammogram at age 40 and then one subsequently every one to two years afterward. However, women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer should ask their doctors about starting mammogram screening before 40.
The National Cancer Institute also urges all women to report the following breast changes to their doctors:
- A lump in or near your breast or underarm
- Thick or firm tissue in or near your breast or underarm
- Nipple discharge or tenderness
- A nipple pulled back or inverted into the breast
- Itching or skin changes, such as redness, scales, dimples, or puckers
- A change in breast size or shape
But don’t worry about underwire bras, antiperspirants, or trauma to the breast increasing your risk, Steiner says. None of these has been proven to promote breast cancer.
Your Breasts in Your 50s
After menopause, the breasts not only become fattier but will shrink because women no longer need the milk-producing glands for breastfeeding.
While harmless lumps may come and go with the menstrual cycle in younger women, any new lump that appears after menopause requires a doctor’s prompt attention.
Most breast cancers occur in women over age 50, according to the National Cancer Institute. From ages 50 to 59, a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer stands at 1 in 37.
In the 50s decade, experts advise women to get mammograms every year.
The good news? Doctors have an easier time detecting breast cancers in older women because breast density is less likely to obscure tumors. As the fat content increases, the sensitivity of the mammogram often increases.
It’s also smart to keep your weight under control. Research has shown that the chances of developing breast cancer after menopause are higher in overweight or obese women.