In the UK, around 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with only 350 being men. Breast cancer is much more common in women, with one in eight women having a lifetime risk of developing it. The earlier the symptoms are spotted, the more chance of a good outcome.
Last reviewed: 13/10/2019 by Dr Simran Deo
Why should you check for breast lumps?
It’s important to know how your breasts usually look and feel so any changes can be caught early on, and discussed with your GP. Checking your breasts regularly is a good way to do this.
For women who menstruate, breasts change during the menstrual cycle
. This is normal, and many women find that their breasts can feel tender and lumpy just before and during their period. Breasts may also become softer and less lumpy after the menopause.
The NHS has created a five-point check for being ‘breast aware’:
- learn what’s ‘normal’ for your breasts
- check them regularly by sight and feel
- be aware of the changes you need to look out for
- report any of those changes to your GP immediately
- attend regular breast screenings if you are over 50
How to check your breasts
You can check your breasts at home on your own very easily. Some women find it easiest to check their breasts when their skin is wet, and prefer to do this in the bath or shower with soap and water. Checking your breasts regularly is important and can be done wherever you find it most comfortable.
Checking your breasts consists of 2 main points:
- Take a look at your breasts in the mirror, first with your arms by your sides, and then with your arms raised above your head.
- Look out for:
- Have they changed in size, shape and colour?
- Are they evenly shaped?
- Is there any bulging or dimpling of the skin?
- Have your nipples changed colour, position or become pushed inwards (inverted)?
- Is there any fluid or discharge coming from the nipples?
- Is there any swelling, redness or a rash?
- Use a circular motion with the first few fingers of your hand and cover the entire breast.
- Feel each of your breasts
- Feel into your armpits with your hand
- Feel up to and around your collarbone
- Look out for:
- Areas of hardened or thickened breast tissue
- Puckering or dimpling of the breast skin
- Discolouration or darkening of the skin of the underarms or breasts
- New changes to your nipples such as inversion
- Swelling previously not there
- Soreness of the skin that persists throughout the cycle
How often should I check?
You should start checking your breasts for changing in your early 20s, and regularly from then on. We recommend checking your breasts once or twice a month.
What do I need to do if I notice a lump?
Don’t panic. Quite often a lump will not be an indication of breast cancer. However, if you do find a lump, or notice anything unusual about your breasts, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible from your local GP or practice nurse.
Where can I find more information about breast cancer?
If you want to find out more about breast cancer, take a look at the Cancer Research UK website at https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/
, or call one of their specialist nurses on 0808 800 40 40.