Research has proven that early detection of breast cancer improves survival rates. Women have a 92% chance of surviving breast cancer ten years or longer if the cancer is detected by a mammogram.
BUT you shouldn’t just wait for a mammogram – every woman should be breast aware, it’s important to know your normal and check your breasts regularly.
How Should I Check My Breasts?
Take the time to ‘get to know’ how your breasts normally look and feel through normal regular activities (such as showering, getting dressed, using body lotion or looking in the mirror).
You don’t need to use a special technique, but ensure you look at and feel your breasts regularly. Make sure this includes all parts of your breast, your armpit and up to your collarbone.
For women of all ages, it is recommended that you be breast aware. Breast awareness is being familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts, so that you can identify any unusual changes (such as a new lump, thickening in the breast, especially if it is only in one breast, changes to the shape or size of the breast or changes to the shape of the nipple).
What Should Your Breast Feel Like?
How your breasts look and feel may be different to another person. However, breast awareness can help you become familiar with how your own breasts normally look and feel, so that you can alert your doctor if you identify any new or persistent changes that are different for you.
What should you look for in your breasts?
Be aware of any new or unusual changes in your breasts. If you notice any signs or symptoms of breast cancer (such as a new lump, thickening in the breast, especially if it is only in one breast, changes to the shape or size of the breast or changes to the shape of the nipple), see your doctor immediately.
Sign or symptoms of breast cancer will depend on where the tumour is, the size of the tumour and how quickly it is growing in the breast. For example, some women will not have any symptoms and the breast cancer is found during a screening mammogram (a low dose x-ray of the breast).
What Does A Lump In Your Breast Feel Like?
A new lump is one of the most common signs of breast cancer. Lumps that are breast cancers can vary. For example, they may be painless or painful. Lumps can also be a sign of a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition. However, if you have found a new lump or breast change, it is important to see your doctor so that it can be checked by a health professional.
When Should I See A Doctor?
It is important to remember that most breast changes are not caused by cancer, and the signs and symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions. However, if you have noticed any symptoms or changes in your breasts, it is important that you see your doctor without delay so that the changes can be checked. This may include a physical examination or imaging of your breasts. Early detection gives the best possible chance of survival if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
It is important to remember that breast awareness does not replace having regular mammograms and other screening tests as recommended by your doctor. Some people diagnosed with breast cancer have signs or symptoms. However, some women have no signs/symptoms and the breast cancer is found during a screening mammogram.
In order to detect breast cancer early, it is recommended that all women start having mammograms between the ages of 40 and 49 and from 49 onwards attend regular screening mammograms every two years. These are offered for free by BreastScreen Aotearoa for women aged 45-69. In deciding whether to attend a screening mammogram, women in these age groups can speak with their doctor and should also consider the potential benefits and downsides of screening mammograms for them.
If you have a strong family history or you are concerned that you may have an increased risk of breast cancer, talk to your GP. Your doctor can help you assess and manage your breast cancer risk and will advise of any additional precautions or screening you may require.
Should Men Be Breast Aware too?
Breast cancer affects both men and women, because both men and women have breast tissue. Although it is uncommon, men can be diagnosed with breast cancer too. 1 in 25 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. If you are a man, and you notice any new and unusual changes in your breasts, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible so that the changes can be examined by a health professional.
Anyone can get breast cancer. Men and women. Young and old. Breast cancer does not discriminate.
Three points to remember
- Breast awareness is recommended for women of all ages. However, it does not replace having regular mammograms and other screening tests as recommended by your doctor.
- Women and men can be diagnosed with breast cancer. Anybody can. For both men and women, if you notice any new or unusual changes in your breasts, see your doctor without delay.
- Most breast changes are not due to cancer, but it is important to see your doctor to be sure. When in doubt, speak to your doctor.