the guide to being breast aware

Women’s health: How well do you know your breasts?

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Women’s health: How well do you know your breasts?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the world1. It affects one in every eight women. If identified early, treatment for breast cancer can be highly effective.  

This is why it is good to be breast aware and to have any changes examined by a GP. 

Step 1: Get to know your breasts

Before you can spot anything out of the ordinary, you’ll need to know what you’re looking for. There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts. You don’t need to check your breasts regularly at a set time or a specific way. Just knowing what’s normal for you, is the most important point. 

Step 2: Know what you’re looking for

There are many reasons for lumps to develop in the breast, most of which are not cancer. 

When it comes to being breast aware, there are a few things you need to look out for, any changes should always be examined by a GP. Seeking medical attention at the first sign of a potential symptom will enable for a more successful treatment. 

If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should book an appointment with a GP. 

  • a lump or swelling in the breast area or armpit 
  • a change in the size or shape of your breast 
  • a change in the appearance of the breast, such as puckering  
  • dimpling of the skin on the breasts, (may be noticed by a change in how the skin feels) 
  • any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in or pointing differently 
  • a rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple 
  • a discharge of fluid from either of your nipples  
  • any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it's a new pain and does not go away. (Most common breast cancers present as a painless lump).  

Step 3: Look and feel

Everyone's breasts are different in terms of size, shape and consistency. It's also normal for one breast to be larger than the other. 

Get used to how your breasts feel at different times of the month, the menstrual cycle can cause changes. For example, some women have tender and lumpy breasts, or armpits around the time of their period. 

Post-menopause, normal breasts feel softer, less firm and not as lumpy. 

To be breast aware: 

  • know what's normal for you 
  • look at your breasts and feel them 
  • know what changes to look for 
  • report any changes to a GP without delay 
  • attend national routine screening appointments as you are invited 

Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, and up to your collarbone. You may find it easiest to do this in the shower or bath, by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit. 

You can also look at your breasts in the mirror. Look with your arms by your side, then with them raised up over your head. Look for any changes to the shape, and to the skin. 

I found a lump, what now?

Don't panic. Breast changes can happen for many reasons, and most of them are not serious (as many as 90% of breast lumps are not cancerous). 

However, if you find any change in your breast that is not normal for you, book an appointment with your GP. Your GP may request to examine your breasts and offer to refer you for further tests.

Our GPs are here for you

If you’re concerned about a lump, other breast symptoms or need more advice on being breast aware, our GPs can help. Speak to them for expert advice, specialist referrals if required and prescriptions sent straight to your door. 

 

Sources - Breast Cancer Factsheet, 26 March 2021, World Health Organisation, Breast cancer (who.int) 

Last reviewed - September 2022

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