The best thing women can do is be aware of what their breasts feel like normally. "If you notice a lump, some change in the skin like thickening, fluid leaking from the nipple or if the nipple seems to have moved, it's sensible to get checked out," says Martin Ledwick at Cancer Research UK.
"Pregnant women should be aware this is a time when their breasts change anyway, so try not to worry too much."
Being breast aware simply means getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel at different times of the month. If you notice a change that isn't normal for you, talk it over with your practice nurse or doctor and ask for a referral to the breast clinic.
You don't need to examine your breasts every day or even every week. But it is important to know how your breasts normally feel, and how that changes with your periods. Some women have lumpier breasts around the time of a period. If this is the same in both breasts, don't worry. But check your breasts again the following month, a few days after your period is over. If the lumpiness comes and goes with your menstrual cycle, it is nothing to worry about.
There's no right or wrong way to do it - look at them and feel them however works best for you.
Being breast aware means that you:
• Know what is normal for you
• Look at and feel your breasts
• Know what changes to look for
• See your doctor about any unusual changes
You are checking for changes in the size, shape or feel of your breast. This could mean a lump or thickening anywhere in the breast. Most people naturally have one breast bigger than the other. It is a change in size or shape that you need to watch out for. Our page about symptoms of breast cancer gives more details of other changes to look out for, such as puckering of the skin or dimpling.
Even with the breast screening programme, many breast tumors are first spotted by women themselves. This may be because the woman is too young to have started screening. Or it may be because she stopped having screening when she reached the age of 70. Or it could be that a breast cancer starts to cause symptoms between mammograms, which is known as an interval cancer.
However it is found, the earlier a breast cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is likely to be to treat it and the better the chance of cure.
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