How big breasts can take five years off your life: Jane Clarke shares her story

How big breasts can take five years off your life: Jane Clarke shares her story

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UPDATED:

01:17 GMT, 31 May 2012

As soon as she opened her eyes each morning, Jane Clarke would reach for the bottle of pain-killers on her bedside table. She needed them just to get through the day.

Before they took effect, even the most basic tasks, such as walking down the drive to collect her post, caused her shoulders and neck to ache. And even though she topped up her medication every few hours, agonising pain was a constant feature of her life.

It would be easy to assume that Jane, 64, a GP’s wife who runs a hat hire business, was afflicted with a chronic disease. But the truth is rather more surprising. For Jane’s suffering was caused by part of her own anatomy: her ample breasts.

Many women, like Jane, suffer pain from having naturally large breasts

Many women, like Jane, suffer pain from having naturally large breasts

And she’s not alone — it’s a problem afflicting increasing numbers of women. In the Fifties, the average cup size was a B, but now it’s risen to a C. In the past three years, the number of D-cups and above sold by Marks & Spencer has doubled, accounting for a quarter of all bra sales.

In response to customer demand, its range for the bigger-busted woman, which used to end with a G-cup, now goes up to a J. Lingerie company Bravissimo has even introduced K-cup bras, while Rigby & Peller, the Queen’s favoured underwear supplier, has gone so far as to launch an eye-watering N-cup bra, the largest ever made in Britain.

The consequences of women having such large chests can be devastating, ranging from crippling back, neck and arm pain, to headaches, friction rash and even curvature of the spine.

Embarrassment means those afflicted are loth to exercise — perhaps little wonder when a G-cup breast has been found to bounce 14cm with every running stride — leaving them prone to health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

In fact, the cumulative effects are so serious that a study published in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that a woman with very large breasts can lose five years off her expected lifespan if she doesn’t have a reduction.

So why are British women’s breasts getting so much bigger It starts young, with higher calorie intake and soaring rates of obesity causing young women to develop larger busts at puberty. And as women progress through their lives, their cup size continues to rise, due to a range of factors that include oestrogen in the contraceptive Pill and hormone replacement therapy.

Perhaps most worrying of all, studies of modern breast milk have revealed that it contains traces of chemicals — including pesticides and flame retardants — believed to act on oestrogen receptors in the body, triggering breast tissue growth.

So though many women may start out with average busts, by later life their breasts become dangerously heavy. That’s exactly how it was for Jane. As a teenager in the Sixties, her bust was only slightly larger than average at a 36B to C, but by the time she had reached her 50s, her cup size was a 36FF.

Before the operation

After the operation

Jane before the operation (left) and with a smaller bust (right)

‘Over the years, my bust just kept getting bigger,’ says Jane, from Ipswich. ‘Like everyone in those days, I took the Pill — without realising the effects it might have on my breasts. My bust got bigger again after I breast-fed my two children.

‘Then, as I hit middle age, my problems were compounded by the fact my metabolism slowed down and I got dumpier. ‘But I found that even if I lost weight, it didn’t help. My breasts got droopier and more pendulous and would hang down to my stomach — changing my whole centre of gravity. If you imagine 3lb or 4lb hanging off your front all day every day, that’s what it was like for me.’

/05/31/article-2152417-0DBC50BA00000578-375_233x372.jpg” width=”233″ height=”372″ alt=”TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson has gone under the knife to reduce the size of her breasts” class=”blkBorder” />

TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson has gone under the knife to reduce the size of her breasts

There is also a postcode lottery, which means that many women not deemed overweight are turned down for surgery. One such is mother of two Ashley Hutchison, 34, from Birmingham. She was in such constant agony from her HH-cup breasts that she took paracetamol and anti-inflammatories every day to cope. And she suffered permanent scarring from her bra straps digging into her  flesh.

Even though Ashley’s BMI was within the acceptable range, after being referred to a specialist by her GP, she was told she needed to lose weight before she could be considered for breast reduction surgery. ‘I would wake up in pain, which I would put at a six or seven out of ten,’ she says.

‘It would rarely drop below a five — even with painkillers. I couldn’t even vacuum because the pain of leaning over was too intense. ‘I hated my breasts because they were so big and ugly. I hardly breast-fed my two daughters because I was so terrified of smothering them. It was like walking around with a full rucksack on my front all day.

‘And I had to put up with  comments from strangers such as: “How much did you pay for those” ‘My large breasts meant I couldn’t exercise to reduce my BMI. Even the sturdiest of sports bras didn’t help.

‘I would diet, but it wouldn’t reduce their size. I felt I was caught in a vicious circle. ‘My breasts were so heavy that I walked with an involuntary stoop, but  the message from the NHS was still: “Go away and keep taking the painkillers.” ’

Ashley became increasingly desperate, so last year opted to reduce her breast size with a Microlipo treatment at The Private Clinic in London’s Harley Street. Costing 5,000, it was less expensive than full surgery and could also be performed while she was awake.

During the operation, the surgeon made tiny punctures in her breasts — less than 1mm wide — and then suctioned out fat cells through a cannula (a thin tube). Her breasts went down in size to an EE and she increased in height by an astonishing three inches because she could finally stand up straight.

WHO KNEW

One in ten women say their large breasts are to blame for their lack of confidence, while a third suffer from pain when exercising, a recent survey found

‘Within a week, the back and neck pain disappeared,’ says Ashley.
‘The difference in my life has been amazing. I even go to tap-dancing lessons, which would have been unthinkable before. For the first time in years I can run. Getting more exercise means I have dropped from a size 16 to a 14.’

Professor Laurence Kirwan is a plastic surgeon who performed breast reduction on TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson after her breast size soared from a D-cup to an L-cup after having four children.

Far from being merely cosmetic, Professor Kirwan believes breast reduction could enable many women to lead healthier, more productive lives. He says a large breast can weigh as much as 3.3lb and removing as little as half a pound can dramatically relieve the symptoms.

But he points out that the issue is often not taken seriously, particularly as large breasts are seen as desirable. ‘It’s wrong for NHS trusts and insurance companies to dismiss this as vanity,’ he says.

‘Many of the women who come to me desperate for breast reductions have poor posture and are in a great deal of  pain due to the drag on their shoulders and neck.’

As well as shortening a woman’s life by five years, he cites a further study in Scandinavia that found the long-term health benefits of a breast reduction are equivalent to those of a hip replacement.

The impact on a woman’s life are also more than physical. Professor Kirwan points to a range of studies that show that up to a third of women seeking breast reduction surgery suffer high degrees of anxiety and depression.

They are more likely to have body dysmorphic disorder — a psychological condition in which sufferers form an unrealistically negative view of their appearance.

‘Many of my breast reduction patients are distraught, and their poor feelings about their bodies are compounded by the fact society does not take their problem seriously,’ says Professor Kirwan.

‘Of course, there is a finite amount of money available and the priority has to be for life-saving operations. ‘Yet breast reductions can make women healthier and more productive, with a much better quality of life, which saves money in the long run.’

As the cup sizes of British women continue to increase, it is a problem that is unlikely to go away. Woman’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Fat Around The Middle, says around one in five women will see a significant hike in breast size around the time of menopause, with many increasing by up to two cup sizes.

She believes the use of bust-boosting oestrogen in some HRT and the cumulative effect of years on the oestrogen-rich Pill are key reasons for the size increase. But these aren’t the only factors.

‘Early puberty is being linked to rising amounts of oestrogen in pesticides and plastics and our environment, as well as changes in our diet,’ says Dr Glenville.

‘At the other end of the scale, this is also fuelling the growth in women’s breast size as they get older.’ She also points out that in the five years leading up to the menopause, many women will also naturally gain weight around their middle. This triggers their bodies to produce more oestrogen which, in turn, stimulates the growth of fatty tissues in the breasts.

‘I see more and more women getting bigger breasts as they get older. For  many, it can be a shock,’ says Dr  Glenville. ‘They didn’t foresee they were going to get a bigger bust, and the size increase can be enough to tip them over into neck and back pain. ‘It can be especially difficult if they have slight frames, which are not used to carrying so much extra weight.’

Jane is delighted she finally had her breasts reduced and would urge any other woman suffering like her to do the same. ‘I feel like a woman of 30 again. My whole quality of life has improved,’ she  says.

‘I’ve got a new identity. My posture changed overnight. From being hunched over, I gained three inches in height because I could finally stand up  straight — and I also wasn’t embarrassed to do so.’

But Jane worries for future generations of young women who don’t realise the devastating consequences their burgeoning breasts could be storing up — and, indeed, may even be seeking to artificially augment them with implants.

‘Girls are already so much bigger than they were in my day, so I’m dismayed when you hear about them  wanting even larger breasts,’ she says.

‘My breasts are completely natural, but have caused me terrible pain. When I hear the younger generation say they want to be even bigger, I think: “I really hope you know what you are letting yourselves in for.” ’