Monitor Changes in Breast Size and Shape, Indicators of Cancer

By Marshalee George, Kimlin Tam Ashing

The size and shape of your breast are unique to you. Breast growth is mostly influenced by the release of estrogen and other hormones in your body, along with your genes (DNA) that you inherit from your parents. Your breast shape and how it looks are influenced by many factors:

  • Your age
  • History of childbearing
  • Breastfeeding
  • History of breast infections

When a female has passed puberty and the breasts are fully developed, that doesn’t mean that the size of the breast will always be the same throughout her lifetime. For example, changes in your breast can occur after breastfeeding. The sucking effect from the baby on your nipples and the weight of the breast from full milk ducts can cause the ligaments that hold the breast against the chest wall to stretch. The skin can lose elasticity, connective tissue may be lost, and the breast shape may change to more of a tear-drop shape.

A good supportive bra is essential to reducing the effects of gravity on our breasts. Yo-yo dieting (in which you lose weight for a while and then gain it back, lose again, gain again, and so on) can also cause your breasts to droop because of the rapid weight loss and weight gain that stretches the skin. If this happens to you, doing exercises such as the dumbbell bench press (lie face-up with your arms straight, a dumbbell in each hand) and push-ups can help a little because having defined chest wall muscles may help give the illusion of perky breasts (though the actual breast tissue won’t change as there are no muscles in the breast).

Breast increasing in size

Sometimes as an adult woman, you feel that your breasts are growing in size. This is often due to weight gain. Breasts, after all, are made up of mostly fat cells, and fat cells are also located in various other parts of the body. When you gain weight, the fat cells increase in numbers all over your body and form adipose tissue, which stores energy in the form of fat and cushions and insulates the body. Adipose tissue is also in the breast.

Pregnancy can make your breast larger because of the enlarged milk ducts to support breastfeeding. Birth control pills can also enlarge the size of your breast due to the increased sensitivity the breast has to hormonal changes (estrogen and progesterone) during your menstrual cycle.

When your breasts become larger, don’t try to fit in the bra that you had last year. It’s time to get measured and fitted for a new bra. This will ensure that the breasts are well supported and you are comfortable. If only one breast changes in size or shape, it’s important to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. If both breasts change in size and shape at the same time, it is most likely not due to breast cancer.

Breast decreasing in size

Your breasts tend to shrink when you lose weight, when you stop taking birth control pills, and when you become post menopausal — that is, when your ovaries no longer produce estrogen.

If you have shrinking breasts along with hair loss, increased facial hair, or acne (on face, chest, and back), it may be because of high levels of testosterone and didehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body. DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands, gonads, and the brain to enhance the function of androgen and estrogen in your body. It is important that you speak to your doctor if you’re having these symptoms. You may need to be tested for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

There have been small studies that looked at the effect of caffeine on breast size. But there is no medical consensus on the effect of caffeine (in specific amounts) on breast size. There is no proven link between caffeine consumption and breast cancer at this time.