Being Breast Aware
Understanding the normal development and ageing process of your breasts will help you to notice any changes that are unusual for you.
Every woman should be breast aware throughout her adult life. It’s an important part of caring for your body. It means knowing how your breasts look and feel normally, so you notice any changes that might be unusual for you.
Get into the habit of looking at and feeling your breasts from time to time. There is no set way to do this. You can decide what you’re comfortable with and when it’s convenient for you. You don’t have to look and feel at the same time.
You need to be aware of any changes that are new or different, such as:
- A change in size - one breast may become noticeably larger or lower
- A nipple that has become inverted (pulled in) or changed its position or shape
- A rash on or around the nipple
- Discharge from one or both nipples
- Puckering or dimpling of the skin
- A swelling under your armpit or around your collarbone (where the lymph nodes are)
- A lump or thickening in your breast that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue.
- Constant pain in one part of your breast or armpit
What to do if you find a change
See your GP as soon as possible. Don’t worry that you may be making an unnecessary fuss and remember most breast changes aren’t cancer, even if they do need treatment or a follow-up.
When your GP examines your breasts he or she may be able to reassure you that there’s nothing to worry about. If the change may be connected with your hormones, your GP may ask you to come back at a different time in your menstrual cycle. Alternatively, he or she may decide to send you to a breast clinic for a more detailed examination.
Breast Cancer Care has more information about what happens at a breast clinic and the tests used to make a diagnosis.
Breast Awareness - five-point code
The Department of Health recommends that instead of examining your breasts every month for abnormalities, you follow this five-point code, which is much more effective at detecting changes and abnormalities.
Woman of all ages should be aware of the normal appearance and texture of their breasts. The following can be normal:
- One breast bigger than the other
- Nipple inversion
- Accessory breast/nipple (two to five per cent)
- Tenderness or pain
During the menstrual cycle, some women experience enlarged, tender, lumpy breasts and these symptoms settle after the period. But some women experience lumpy, tender breasts all the time.
During pregnancy, breasts become larger as the milk-producing cells multiply. It’s normal for the nipples to get darker and the blood vessels to become more prominent.
As you age, breast tissue loses its elasticity and it’s normal for breasts to sag. During the menopause, your breasts may shrink (as a result of the reduction in oestrogen), although sometimes they do get larger. The nipples may alter, as the major ducts behind them get shorter and wider.
Get to know what is normal for you by:
- Feeling your breasts every day until you’re familiar with their texture and how it can change through the menstrual cycle
- Look and feel your breasts regularly, whenever it’s convenient for you
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