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Finding breast cancer early

Find out about breast awareness and which breast changes to look out for.

What is breast awareness

Being breast aware means getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel. This may change at different times of the month.

If you notice a change that isn't normal for you, talk it over with your practice nurse or doctor and ask for a referral to the breast clinic.

Being breast aware means that you:

  • know what is normal for you
  • look at and feel your breasts
  • know what changes to look for
  • see your doctor about any unusual changes

When to examine your breasts

You don't need to examine your breasts every day or even every week. But it is important to know how your breasts normally feel, and how that changes with your periods.

Some women have lumpier breasts around the time of a period. If this is the same in both breasts, don't worry. But check your breasts again the following month, a few days after your period is over.

If the lumpiness comes and goes with your menstrual cycle, it is nothing to worry about.

What to look for

You are checking for changes in the size, shape or feel of your breast. This could mean a lump or thickening anywhere in the breast.

Most people naturally have one breast bigger than the other. It is any change in the size or shape that you need to watch out for. Other changes include puckering or dimpling of the skin.

Finding breast cancer with screening

The UK national breast screening programme uses breast x-rays (mammograms) to find breast cancer early, before it causes symptoms.

The programme invites women between the ages of 50 and 70 to have a mammogram every 3 years. In England, the screening programme is currently extending the age range from 47 to 73. Women older than this can ask to carry on having screening every 3 years.

Even with the breast screening programme, some breast cancers are first spotted by women themselves. This might be because the woman is too young to have started screening. Or it may be because she stopped having screening when she reached the age of 70. Or it could be that a breast cancer starts to cause symptoms between mammograms, which is known as an interval cancer.

Benefits of finding cancer early

However it is found, the earlier a breast cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is likely to be to treat and the better the chance of cure.

Help with breast awareness

If you are worried that you don't know how to feel your breasts properly, there are people who can help.

Talk it over with your GP or practice nurse. You can also see staff at your local well woman clinic. Your GP or practice nurse can give you the telephone number.

They can tell you what changes you can normally expect in your breasts. They can also tell you about ways of learning how your breasts normally look and feel.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.