During the menopausal transition, women are likely to be plagued not only by pesky symptoms like hot flashes or sleeping problems, but also by various changes in their physique, including menopause breast growth. While those on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) might be eager to attribute these effects to their treatment, the relationship between the two is not that simple.
Keep on reading to learn about the link between HRT and breast growth, starting from natural breast changes during menopause and the effects of HRT on breast development to other potential causes of voluminous breasts and important warnings each menopausal woman should keep in mind.
Menopause Breast Changes
Because the hormone plays a key role in collagen production and skin elasticity, its decline causes the shrinkage of the milk glands within the breasts, a process called lobular involution.1 As a result, their appearance can naturally change.
While most women report a loss of firmness and increased droopiness during menopause, only about 2% actually experience a size decrease enough to require a smaller bra.
One in five menopausal women (20%), on the other hand, experiences a significant increase in breast size, often by a cup or two.2
Are HRT and Breast Growth Linked?
Estrogen replacement therapy is the most common type of HRT. These treatments help to balance hormone levels by providing the body with exogenous, or man-made, hormones and relieving symptoms of an imbalance.
Though one could assume that supplying lost estrogen in the body should stimulate menopause breast growth, it is not always the case.
Only some menopausal women report increases in their cup size while on HRT, and while breast enlargement is sometimes listed as a side effect on HRT - alongside breast tenderness, mood swings, or bloating -, whether these effects can be solely attributed to the regimen is unclear.3
In fact, some data studies have disproven the HRT breast growth link, suggesting that the use of HRT is only moderately, not significantly, associated with breast size increases in menopausal women.2
So, Why are my Breasts Getting Bigger after Menopause?
Perimenopause breast growth is most strongly associated with weight gain, one of the most prevalent symptoms of hormonal fluctuations during the mid-life transition.2
In fact, middle-aged women gain an average of 1.5 lb. (0.7 kg) per year due to low estrogen as well as slower metabolism, stationary lifestyle, and inadequate dietary habits.4 While it is mainly distributed along the midsection, it can also lead to breast increase.
Moreover, as milk glands shrink within the breasts with the fall of estrogen, fat tissue may take up their space, sometimes resulting in breasts feeling or appearing larger.
HRT and Breast Development Warnings
Is important to keep in mind that HRT should not be used for the sole purpose of enlarging breast size.
The treatment has been linked to serious side effects, like a higher risk of breast cancer, which may last for over a decade after its discontinuation.5 As such, its use is generally recommended for severe menopause symptoms or to lower the risk of complications, like osteoporosis.
Moreover, studies have shown that HRT doubles breast density, which is a risk factor for breast cancer.6 Natural aging of the breast tissue that results in complete involution of the milk glands actually cuts the breast cancer risk by half.7
While aging and the extent of hormonal fluctuations affects every woman differently, it is understandable for those going through their midlife transition to feel anxious about the inevitable body changes, including menopause breast changes. However, by maintaining a positive outlook, performing regular breast self-exams, and embracing those changes as part of their femininity, women can approach this natural life phase with more control and explore safe and natural hormonal imbalance treatments that combine wholesome lifestyle changes with alternative medicine without the need for risky interventions.
- Breast Cancer Research. (2016). Involution of breast tissue and mammographic density. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13058-016-0792-3
- Menopause. (n.d.). News You Can Use About Hormone Therapy. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/news-you-can-use-about-hormone-therapy
- NHS. (2018). Breast changes in older women. Retrieved November 25, 2019 https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/breast-changes-in-older-women/
- Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia. (2009). Mammary Involution and Breast Cancer Risk: Transgenic Models and Clinical Studies. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2693781/
- Maturitas. (2004). Increase in breast size after menopause: prevalence and determinants. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122(03)00384-0/pdf
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2005). Menopausal Hormone Therapy. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/pht_facts.pdf
- The North American Menopause Society. (2018). Midlife Weight Gain - Sound Familiar? You're Not Alone. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopause-take-time-to-think-about-it/consumers/2018/01/23/midlife-weight-gain-sound-familiar-you-re-not-alone
- The Lancet. (2019). Type and timing of menopausal hormone therapy and breast cancer risk: individual participant meta-analysis of the worldwide epidemiological evidence. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)31709-X/fulltext
- Eurek Alert. (2006). Mayo Clinic study observes normal aging process lowers breast cancer risk. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-11/mc-mcs111306.php
- Fred Hutch. (2004). HRT doubles breast density. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2004/11/HRT.html