It is important that every woman is breast aware. This means knowing what is normal for you so that if ant unusual change occurs, you will recognize it. The sooner you notice a change the better because if cancer is found early, treatment is more likely to be successful.
Know what is NORMAL for you:
Your breasts will go through many normal changes during your lifetime. These are due to changes in hormones that occur during your menstrual cycle (period), pregnancy, breast-feeding and the menopause.
The Menstrual Cycle:
Each month when you are having your menstrual cycle (period), your breasts often change. They can become bigger, tender and lumpy usually before a period starts and return to normal once the period is over. Some women, however, may have tender, lumpy breasts throughout their cycle.
Pregnancy and Breast-feeding:
The changes that occur during the menstrual cycle (period) continue during pregnancy. While breast-feeding, your breasts may be very enlarged, firm and tender; this is normal at this time. However, you should continue to check your breasts and discuss any unusual changes with your GP or local health clinic.
After the menopause your breasts may feel softer and they may get bigger or smaller. If there is a change in only one breast, you should discuss this with your doctor. HRT (hormone replacement therapy) may cause your breasts to feel firmer and quite tender.
Know what changes to look and feel for:
- A change in size or shape
- One breast may become larger than the other
- Changes inn the nipple
- Changes in direction or shape, pulled in or flattened
- Unusual discharge, especially if bloodstained
- Changes on or around the nipple
- Rash, flaky or crusted skin
- Changes in the skin
- Dimpling, puckering, or redness
- ‘Orange peel’ appearance on the skin caused by unusually enlarged pores
- Swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone
- A lump, in any size or thickening in your breast
- Constant pain in one part of your breast or armpit
Three easy steps as suggested by the Irish Cancer Society
- In the shower or bath: Fingers slide over wet skin – so with the flat of your hand, move gently over each breast in a circular motion. Check for any lump, hard knot or thickening.
- In front of a mirror: With hands by your side, look at your breasts with your arms by your sides while slowly rotating your upper body side to side. Next put your hands on your head and look for dimples or bulges in your breasts, particularly underneath. Dimples, which are equal in size and shape and occur in both breasts are normally harmless. Then, raise your arms high above your head and look again for any changes – especially in the nipple area. Finally, rest your palms on your hips and press down firmly while holding the shoulders back so that your chest muscles are flexed. Check for any changes in appearance. (During each of these four steps you should rotate your body from side to side. By regular inspection you will see what is normal for you.)
- Lying down: Put a pillow or folded towel under your right shoulder and place your right arm behind your head. Using the fingers of your left hand press gently in small circular motions around an imaginary clock face. Start at the top of the breast for 12 o’clock and move in a clockwise circle until you return to 12 again. Then move in one inch and repeat. Keep doing this until you reach the nipple. This procedure should take four circles in total. When finished, put your arm by your side and feel under the armpit for any lumps. Repeat this process with the pillow under the left shoulder and your left arm behind your head. Examine the armpit for any lumps.Finally, press each nipple using pads of the fingers. Any secretion, particularly if it comes from a single pore, should be reported to your doctor. All changes in your breasts should be reported to your doctor.
Breast self examination should be carried out every month, a week after your period.
What to do if you find something:
If you do notice any changes in your breasts, see your GP or visit your local health clinic as soon as possible. Remember that most breast changes are not cancer and are harmless. When your GP examines, she/he may be able to reassure you that there is nothing to worry about. If the change should be connected with your hormones, your GP may ask you to come back at a different change of your menstrual cycle. Alternatively, you may be sent to a specialist breast clinic for more detailed examination.
Don’t worry that you may be making an unnecessary fuss. If you are concerned about any change, ask your doctor to explain the change. Make sure you are happy with the explanation. If not, get a second opinion.
If you want more information and support, call our ABC Helpline Nurses Freephone 1800 30 90 40 Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm.