It’s drummed into us that we need to check our breasts for lumps, but what exactly are we looking for: what lumps should you be worried about? Should you be concerned about that red patch? And where else should you be checking?
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, mainly affecting older women however, younger women and men can also be at risk. It’s important for women to regularly check their breasts and be aware of any changes so any potential problems can be dealt with as early as possible. Successful recovery is much more likely if breast cancer is caught and treated early.
How often to check
Our consultant breast surgeon Mr Prasad, who specialises in breast disease, breast surgery and reconstructive surgery, says all women aged 50 and over are entitled to a mammogram and check-up every three years up to their 71st birthday. “In otherwise healthy women with no medical or family history of cancer, 50 is the ideal age for a mammogram. I would say women – and men – over 30 should be checking for abnormalities at least once a month. While studies suggest it is uncommon for breast cancer to develop before the age of 30, the sooner you get into the habit of checking the better.”
How can I check myself for breast cancer?
Every woman’s breasts are different, and there’s no single right or wrong method of checking them. The important thing is to get used to how your breasts normally look and feel, including how they normally change at different times.
Look at your breasts in the mirror to spot any changes, both with your arms up and by your side. You should also check them by feel, including around the armpits and up to your collarbone. It’s a good habit to do this when you’re in the shower, and it can be easier to check and feel when your hands are soapy.
Just remember that it’s possible to feel lumps in your breast for all sorts of reasons, and it doesn’t always mean cancer. Many women experience tenderness and lumpiness at various times during their menstrual cycle, especially close to their period. It’s important to be familiar with these natural changes so you can spot anything that’s out of the ordinary.
To watch our how to self-examine your breast video click here.
What to look for when checking your breasts
While these symptoms could mean breast cancer, there are many other reasons for lumps or changes in your breasts, and most aren’t due to cancer. However, you should always be vigilant and speak to your doctor if you’re not sure about something new or unusual.
Finding a lump – any new lump or bumpy area, particularly if it’s only in one breast
Changes in size – such as the general size or a change in shape
Changes in skin texture – a difference in the look or feel of your skin
Nipple discharge or a rash – bloody or non-milky discharge
Change in nipple shape – such as pointing differently
Discomfort or pain – a new and lingering pain
There’s a very low chance that any unusual changes you notice in your breasts turn out to be cancer, but it’s always best to check with your GP. If you find something out of the ordinary, you should see your doctor as soon as possible to determine whether it’s something serious, so any treatment can be planned quickly. For information on our private GP appointments click here.