Checking your Breasts for Lumps

Whatever your age, size or shape, it is important to be breast aware, and check your breasts regularly.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, so it’s highly important to look after your breasts and check them regularly. By getting to know how your breasts look and feel will help you know what is normal for you and what isn’t. This in turn will help you be more confident about noticing any unusual changes that may be a symptom of breast cancer and letting your GP know.

How Do I Check My Breasts?

Everyone’s breasts look and feel different some people may have one breast larger than the other, or breasts with different shapes. When you check your breasts, try to be aware of any changes that are different for you.

Try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly – for instance, when you are in the bath or shower, using body lotion or getting dressed. You don’t need to feel your breasts in any special way. Remember to check all parts of your breasts, your armpits and up to your collarbone.

It’s important to regularly to check for changes, if you check them as part of your usual routine you won’t need to worry that you aren’t doing it often enough. Decide what you are comfortable with and what suits you best.

It’s important to let your doctor know as soon as possible if you notice a change. If you do notice a change go and see your GP as soon as possible. Most breast changes are normal breast changes or due to a benign (not cancer) breast condition, but it’s important to find out what’s causing the change.

What Are Normal Breast Changes?

Changes Around the Time of your Period

Your breasts may feel heavier and fuller before your period. They may also be tender or lumpy. After a period, this usually lessens or disappears altogether, although some women have tender, lumpy breasts all the time. Many women also have breast pain around the time of their period (cyclical breast pain), which is normal.

During Pregnancy

Your breasts go through a lot of changes during and after pregnancy. Many pregnant women feel a change in sensation in their breasts such as tingling and soreness (particularly of the nipples). The breast and the areola begin to get bigger. The nipple and areola become darker and remain that way during pregnancy.

Before, During and After the Menopause

As oestrogen levels fall during and after the menopause, the breasts may change size, lose their firmness, feel softer and may droop. Changes, such as a lump or tenderness, are also common at this time. Lumps often turn out to be breast cysts (fluid-filled sacs). Tenderness may be non-cyclical breast pain (pain that is not linked to the menstrual cycle), which may need to be treated with pain relief.

Breast Changes to Look Out For

Make an appointment as soon as possible if you notice the following changes:

  • A change in the size, outline or shape of your breast
  • A change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • A new lump, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit that is different from the same area on the other side
  • Nipple discharge that’s not milky
  • Bleeding from your nipple
  • A moist, red area on your nipple that doesn’t heal easily
  • Any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in or pointing differently
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • Any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it’s a new pain and doesn’t go away (although pain is only a symptom of breast cancer in rare cases)