Find out about checking your breasts and how to be breast aware.
Know which changes to look for, how to look at and feel your breasts, and when to see your doctor.
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 which 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 and this is normal. You need to check for any changes in the size, shape or texture of your breasts. Other changes include puckering or dimpling of the skin or changes in the nipple.
Remember to check all parts of your breast, including your armpits and the area above your breasts up to the collarbone.
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
Breast cancers found early need less treatment and are more likely to be cured.
Help with breast awareness
If you are worried that you don't know how to check your breasts properly, 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.
The staff can tell you about changes you can normally expect in your breasts. They can also tell you about ways of learning how your breasts normally look and feel.
If you have breast changes
If you have any breast changes and are worried that you might have cancer you should go to your GP. Find out about what happens at the GP surgery.