Knowledge is key to many things, and we have heard many times that early discovery of cancer is of vital importance in increasing your chance of survival. It may seem like nuisance to keep checking yourself for signs, however, if recognising symptoms of breast cancer has a chance of keeping you alive, then we believe it is worth it.
So what should you be looking out for?
A lump is a first sign of breast cancer for many women. You should be checking for lumps in the breast, as well as on your upper chest or armpit. You should be reporting any lumps to your doctor, even though the lump may not be cancerous as 9 out of 10 breast lumps are benign.
* Change in size or shape
Knowing the size, shape and feel of your breasts is important as only this way you can monitor changes. If your breasts look bigger or have a different shape, see your doctor.
Please note that many healthy women will notice changes in their breasts before their period, which is normal.
Your breasts hurting is not uncommon, and it will not usually mean that it is due to cancer. The pain may come and go, but if you find the pain is unusual and persistent, you should notify your doctor.
* Appearance or direction of the nipple, and nipple discharge
You may find your nipple changes direction (becomes inverted if normally pointing out) or changes appearance. You should also look out for unusual discharge from one or both nipples if not pregnant or breastfeeding.
* Skin changes
The skin changes you may experience are puckering, dimpling, a rash, or redness of the skin of the breast. The skin may also look like orange peel or the texture may feel different. These symptoms may not be due to breast cancer, but you should get it checked by a doctor in any case.
Be breast aware
Learn about your breasts and what they normally look and feel like. Examining your breasts is not required every day or even every week, but it is important to know how they normally look and feel, and how they may be changing with your periods. They may be changing at different times of the month, so if it helps you remember, note it down in a notebook or even take pictures on a regular basis for comparison.
Cancer Research UK recommends that you:
- know what is normal for you
- look at and feel your breasts
- know which changes to look out for
- see your doctor about any unusual changes
The UK national breast screening programme uses mammograms to find the cancer early, before it causes symptoms. In England, women between the ages of 47 and 73 are invited to have a mammogram every three years. Remember, any unusual changes you may notice are worth reporting to your doctor.
This video demonstrates how some women stay breast aware, and how they check for signs: