Are My Breasts Normal?

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When it comes to the girls, you’re (hopefully) all too familiar with how they look and feel. But sometimes our breasts may look droopy or lopsided. They might feel lumpy or even painful.

What gives?

We talked to HCA expert and breast specialist Kay Shawchuck, MD, of St. Petersburg General Hospital in Florida to learn whether or not to worry about these common breast concerns. 

Dense Breasts

2 / 8 Dense Breasts

Up to 75% of women have dense breasts, which means they have more firm, fibrous tissue than fatty tissue, according to Dr. Shawchuck. Firm breasts are more common in younger women, making the girls perky, but they tend to turn into fatty tissue as we age.

Does this mean anything for breast cancer risk?

“Dense breasts aren’t necessarily an indicator of breast cancer,” says Dr. Shawchuck, “but we do know that it gives a slightly higher risk.” They can also make it harder to detect cancer during mammography.

If your doctor determines that you have dense breasts, or if you have a family history of dense breasts, she may recommend annual mammograms, but generally, you shouldn't be worried.

Change in Nipple Color

3 / 8 Change in Nipple Color

Notice a recent change in the tone or color of your nipples? It’s rarely cause for alarm. In fact, it could be cause for celebration.

“Nipples change color, and can get hyper-pigmented due to hormone changes from pregnancy,” says Shawchuck. Pregnancy hormones trigger increased melanin production, which causes your nipples and areolas to appear darker.

Shawchuck advises though, “any change in the nipple, or the skin around the nipple, that’s different from one side to the other should always be looked at and evaluated.” And keep an eye out for discharge, bleeding, puckering or inversion, too. In some cases, these could indicate a more serious issue such as breast cancer.

Breast Sagging

4 / 8 Breast Sagging

Television. Magazines. Advertisements. We are confronted with images of perky, perfect breasts everywhere we look, making it easy to forget that it's simply not reality.

Breast pstosis (the scientific name for drooping) affects nearly all women as they age, and can be the result of weight loss, pregnancy, changes in hormones and even smoking.

Breast sagging “is a natural part of aging,” says Shawchuck, “especially for women who’ve had children. The fibrous tissue that perks breasts up will stretch out, which is usually permanent.”

Other than aesthetics, though, “it’s not at all something women should be concerned about.”

Breast Pain

5 / 8 Breast Pain

Any time we feel pain in our breasts, our first reaction is usually stress and worry. But according to Dr. Shawchuck, it shouldn’t be.

“You can never say never, but breast pain is rarely a symptom of breast cancer. Almost every woman experiences some level of breast pain now and then,” says Shawchuck. Common culprits include cysts, infections, swelling during PMS or joint inflammation between the ribs and the sternum. Pregnancy and puberty can also cause breast pain.  

However, if nipple discharge, a new lump, redness or fever accompanies your pain, or you’re worried that something more serious may be going on, you should make an appointment and get evaluated by a doctor.

Lumpy Breasts

6 / 8 Lumpy Breasts

Finding a lump can send you into a panic about the possibility of breast cancer.

The good news? According to Dr. Shawchuck, most of the time, a lump is a benign fibroid or cyst. But how can you tell the difference between a potentially cancerous lump and a fibroid?

“In general, cancers feel firm and hard. Fibroids feel soft, rubbery and smooth. You can usually push them around.” But, she advises, your doctor should examine any new lump in the breast that hasn’t previously been evaluated. 

Asymmetrical Breasts

7 / 8 Asymmetrical Breasts

When the gals appear uneven, it can make us feel self-conscious or even uncomfortable in our clothes. But take comfort, ladies. You’re far from alone. Nearly all women live with some degree of asymmetry when it comes to their breasts, and it rarely means a serious problem.

However, says Shawchuck, if they become more asymmetric over time, you’ll want to schedule a doctor’s appointment. 

And if you’re worried for aesthetic reasons, the staff at most lingerie stores can help you select a bra for a more even appearance. 

When It's Time to See a Breast Specialist

8 / 8 When It's Time to See a Breast Specialist

When it comes to your breast health, “there’s never one answer for every woman,” says Dr. Shawchuck.  All these concerns depend on a woman’s age, her family history, and her overall risk for breast cancer.

A good rule of thumb, though?  Any time you notice a change in your breast – whether that means a lump, a change in density, or any other concern – it’s important to get it checked. “Testing is always the most important thing,” says Shawchuck.

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