A note on terms:
Everyone has breast tissue and people of all genders can get breast cancer. To be clear and consistent, we use the word ‘breasts’ in our health information, rather than boobs, pecs or chest. When we say breasts, we mean the tissue from your rib cage up to your collarbone and armpits, including your nipples.
The more you get to know your breasts, the more you will become familiar with natural changes that may occur. All bodies are different, and you are the expert on what is normal for you. It is important to pay attention to any changes to your breasts, and if you are concerned, speak to your doctor.
Changes During Puberty
Breasts usually develop between the ages of 9 and 16, but it can be normal for them to grow earlier or later. During this time, female breasts grow more fatty tissue and milk-producing glands. Breasts are usually fully developed by the age of 17, but it could take a little bit longer. As your breasts grow, you might feel aching or tingling, but this is completely normal. There is nothing you can do to speed up or slow down your breasts developing. If you want to wear a bra to feel comfortable, make sure you wear one that fits you well. Some people gain weight during puberty and that is completely normal. Breast tissue contains some fat, so you might find that your breasts grow if you put on weight. It is normal for your breasts to be slightly different sizes. After puberty you might notice hair around your nipples, and that is completely normal too. If you would like to know more about puberty, our friends at Brook are health and wellbeing experts for young people and they can provide help and advice.
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and they will change throughout your life. Some breast lumps are perfectly normal, but if you get a new lump or an old lump comes back, contact your GP. It is important to get to know your normal rhythm so you can detect any unusual changes quickly.
If you have periods, you might find that your breasts naturally change as part of your monthly cycle. It is normal for your breasts to feel tender or sore around the time of your period, this is called cyclical pain and it is very common. Cyclical pain is caused by the natural fluctuations of your hormones and whilst it might hurt, it is harmless. Breast pain on its own is rarely a sign of breast cancer. You can read more about breast pain here.
Changes During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
It is normal for your breasts to change during pregnancy. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding cause breast changes because your breasts respond to the pregnancy hormones. During pregnancy and breastfeeding you might notice the following changes to your breasts:
- Changes in size or shape
- Changes in skin colour
- Increased sensitivity
- Visible veins
It is important that you keep checking your breasts throughout pregnancy, to help you get to know the natural fluctuations that occur. There are a few non-cancerous (benign) breast changes associated with pregnancy, but but breast cancer can still occur during pregnancy and when you’re breastfeeding. It is important that you discuss any concerns with your doctor or midwife. Conditions such as mastitis or blocked ducts must be formally diagnosed by a doctor. You can read more about breast changes in pregnancy, here.
Breast Changes in Men and Boys (Gynaecomastia)
If you have heard people talking about ‘man boobs’, they might be referring to a condition called gynaecomastia. Gynaecomastia is a common, benign (not cancer) condition that causes the breast tissue of men and boys to grow larger than normal. Due to increased hormones, it is common in teenage boys, but it can occur in men of any age. In 9 out of 10 cases, gynaecomastia gets better on its own. The symptoms of gynaecomastia can be slight or extreme, and it can be slightly sore to the touch. Although gynaecomastia is harmless, boys and men must get to know their chests and get any changes checked by a doctor. Our friends at Breast Cancer Now have more information about gynaecomastia. If you are concerned about this condition, please speak to your GP. Remember, this is a common condition and your GP has seen it all before, so don’t be embarrassed, just get it checked.
Signs & Symptoms
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This information was published in April 2021. It will be revised in April 2024.