Knowing what your breasts look and feel like, and checking them regularly, can help you detect when something’s wrong. Find out what to look out for, including new lumps and changes in shape.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women, with around 38,000 cases diagnosed every year in England. Around 260 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. The lifetime risk of any woman in England developing breast cancer is around 1 in 10.
Be breast aware
Detecting cancer early can mean that treatment is more effective. Knowing what your breasts normally feel like will help you be aware of any abnormal changes. Not all changes are a sign of breast cancer. Some women have cysts or thickening of the breast tissue, which is normal. You can find out more about causes of breast lumps.
Learn what your breasts look and feel like. Their appearance and feel can change at different times of the menstrual cycle. The milk-producing tissue in the breast becomes active in the days before a period starts. Some women find that their breasts feel tender and lumpy at this time, especially near the armpits.
After a hysterectomy (removal of the womb), the breasts usually show the same monthly changes until the time when your periods would have stopped naturally.
After the menopause, activity in the milk-producing tissue stops. Normal breasts can feel soft, less firm and not lumpy.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises that being breast aware means:
- knowing what's normal for you
- looking at your breasts and and feeling them
- knowing what changes to look for
- reporting any changes without delay
- attending routine breast screening if you're 50 or over
Changes in the breast
Be aware of the following changes in your breasts:
- changes in the outline or shape of the breast, especially those caused by arm movements or by lifting the breast
- changes in the look or feel of the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
- discomfort or pain in one breast that is unusual, particularly if it is new and persistent
- any new lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in one breast or armpit, which differs from the same part of the other breast and armpit
- nipple discharge that's new for you and not milky
- bleeding from the nipple
- moist, red areas on the nipple that don't heal easily
- any change in nipple position, such as pulled up or pointing differently
- a rash on or around the nipple
If you notice any of these changes, see your GP.
More on breast cancer
- Find out more about the NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme.
- Find out more about breast cancer diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.