Breast awareness will help you to get into the habit of feeling and looking at your breasts regularly so you know what’s normal for you.
It’s important to look for any changes in the appearance of your breasts as well as checking how they feel. Check yourself in any way that feels comfortable and convenient for you. For example, you may find it easier to check your breasts:
- before a bath or shower, using a mirror to look at your breasts from different angles
- while you’re in the bath or shower, using soapy hands
- when you’re lying down in bed
- while you’re getting dressed
Once you’re familiar with the usual feel and appearance of your breasts, it should be easier to notice if anything changes.
If you feel uncomfortable or anxious about checking your breasts, you may find it helpful to discuss your worries with your GP or nurse.
Breast self referral
If you are experiencing the symptoms of suspected breast cancer and have Bupa health insurance, there is usually no need for a GP referral. Call our team to speak to a specialist advisor or nurse.
Excludes some company schemes. Subject to member’s underwriting terms and any pre-existing conditions. Eligibility checks are required for pre-authorisation.
The UK Department of Health has produced a five-point breast awareness code.
- Know what is normal for you.
- Check both the look and feel of your breasts.
- Know what changes to look and feel for.
- Report any changes to your GP without delay.
- Attend routine breast screening if you're 50 or over.
Your breasts change throughout life and can be affected by several factors. These include the time in your menstrual cycle, age, pregnancy, the menopause (the time when your periods stop) and the type of contraception that you use. So it’s important to remember that changes in how your breasts look and feel aren’t always a cause for concern.
Your menstrual cycle
Experiencing breast pain during part of your menstrual cycle is quite common. This is known as cyclical breast pain. It can range from mild discomfort and tenderness to a dull or aching pain. The pain usually lasts for one to four days and tends to occur at the pre-menstrual stage, before your period starts. It’s not unusual for your breasts to feel tender or lumpy just before your period, especially near your armpits. This happens when the milk-producing tissue in your breasts becomes active.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
It’s likely that you will notice changes in your breasts if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can naturally cause some changes in your breasts. See our FAQs section for more information about this.
There’s another type of breast pain that you might have – it’s called non-cyclical breast pain. You can get it at any age but it most commonly happens after you’ve been through the menopause. This type of breast pain might also be caused by some medicines such as hormonal contraceptives or injections.
During and after the menopause, your breasts may change in size and shape. They may feel softer and less lumpy as activity in the milk-producing tissue of your breasts stops.
Hysterectomy before the menopause
If you have a hysterectomy before the menopause, your breasts may still feel tender or lumpy each month unless your ovaries were also removed. This happens because your ovaries are still working and producing hormones. You may notice monthly changes in your breasts until the time when your periods would have stopped naturally.
It's important to check the whole of your breast area. This includes both breasts, your armpits and up to your collarbone. The illustrations below show you what to look out for, but remember these symptoms might happen on a different part of the breast area than shown in the picture.
These symptoms don’t necessarily mean that you have breast cancer but if you have any of them, speak to your GP.
I'm breastfeeding and have noticed some changes in my breasts. Should I be worried?
It’s common for your breasts to feel different from usual while you’re breastfeeding. Keep in mind that breastfeeding can naturally cause some changes in your breasts such as:
- swelling and tenderness
- sore or cracked nipples
- milk leaking from your nipples
If you’re concerned or notice any unusual changes in your breasts, speak to your GP surgery or midwife. If you notice changes that affect one side only, it’s particularly important to seek medical advice.
I've heard that men can get breast cancer too. Is this true?
Yes, men can get breast cancer but it's very rare. About 350 men develop breast cancer each year in the UK. Because of this low rate, not everyone is aware that it can affect men too. Age is the biggest risk factor for men. Although men of all ages are at risk, breast cancer is most common in men over 60.
Usually, the first symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump in the breast tissue. Other symptoms can include:
- swelling in the breast area
- discharge or bleeding from the nipple
- the nipple turning inwards (inverting)
- redness or a rash on the nipple
- a lump in the armpit
- an ulcer on the skin of the breast
These symptoms aren’t always caused by cancer but if you have any of them, speak to your GP.
Will changing my diet reduce my risk of getting breast cancer?
How your diet affects your risk of getting breast cancer is an ongoing area of research. It’s not a very easy thing to find out. But it is known that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help prevent a variety of conditions, including some cancers.
Several large and ongoing scientific studies have looked at lots of aspects of diet and breast cancer. These are some of the key findings which suggest things that may help reduce your risk. Do bear in mind though that it’s likely a variety of things together reduce the risk, not just diet alone.
- Weight gain may increase the risk of breast cancer, particularly if you’re past the menopause. It’s not very clear how age is connected to weight gain and how this affects the risk. We do know though that being a healthy weight throughout your life is important to prevent several long-term conditions. So if you are overweight, changing your diet and increasing your activity levels will help you get to a healthy weight.
- A diet high in saturated fat may increase the risk. Foods high in this type of fat include butter, cheese, red meats, cakes and biscuits. Reduce how much you eat of these and choose low-fat options (but do look at how much sugar they contain).
- Alcohol may increase your risk. If you do drink, stay within recommended guidelines. Don’t binge drink and remember to have alcohol-free days. More information about this can be found in our sensible drinking topic.
- Eating fibre, especially from vegetables, may reduce your risk. It’s a good reason to make sure you’re eating the recommended five portions a day.
- A Mediterranean diet might reduce the risk in post-menopausal women. This diet includes plenty of the components of what’s considered to be a healthy diet. It involves eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, olive oil and fish.
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