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Finding breast cancer early

Men and women discussing breast cancer

This page is about finding breast cancer early. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Why be breast aware?

The earlier a breast cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is likely to be to treat it and the better the chance of cure. Being breast aware simply means getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel at different times of the month. If you notice a change that isn't normal for you, talk it over with your doctor.

Breast changes to look for

You don't need to examine your breasts every day or even every week. Some women have lumpier breasts around the time of a period. If the lumpiness comes and goes with your menstrual cycle, it is nothing to worry about.

It is easiest to check your breasts in the shower or bath. Run a soapy hand over each breast and up under your arm. You need to check for changes in the size, shape or feel of your breast. The NHS breast awareness five point code says

  • Know what is normal for you
  • Look and feel
  • Know what changes to look for
  • Report any changes straight away
  • Attend for breast screening when you are invited

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About breast cancer section.

 

 

Breast awareness

In the UK every woman between the ages of 50 and 70 is invited for a mammogram every 3 years as part of the UK NHS breast cancer screening programme. In England, the screening programme is currently extending the age range for breast screening from 47 to 73. Women older than 70 can ask to carry on having screening every 3 years.

Even with the breast screening programme, many breast tumours are first spotted by women themselves. This may 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.

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

 

Breast changes to look for

Being breast aware simply means getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel 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.

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.

It is easiest to check your breasts in the shower or bath. Run a soapy hand over each breast and up under your arm. The NHS breast awareness five point code says

  • Know what is normal for you
  • Look and feel
  • Know what changes to look for
  • Report any changes without delay
  • Attend for breast screening if you are aged 50 or over

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 a change in size or shape that you need to watch out for. Our page about symptoms of breast cancer gives more details of other changes to look out for, such as puckering of the skin or dimpling.

 

If you feel worried

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 doctor or nurse
  • Staff at your local well woman clinic – your GP or practice nurse will be able to give you the telephone number
  • Staff at one of the breast cancer organisations

They can tell you

  • What changes you can normally expect in your breasts
  • About ways of learning how your breasts should look and feel
 

More information about breast awareness

There are books and booklets about breast self awareness, some of which are free. Look at our breast cancer reading list for details. The NHS breast screening programme has a Be Breast Aware leaflet, which you can download from their website. The leaflet is available in many different languages.

You can also watch the video Spot breast cancer early on our website.

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Updated: 9 July 2014