Detecting breast cancer early can mean that treatment is more effective.
Knowing what your breasts normally feel like will help you to be aware of any abnormal changes.
However, not all changes are a sign of breast cancer. Some women have cysts or thickening of the breast tissue, which is normal.
According to Cancer Research UK, 9 out of 10 breast lumps are not cancer.
Read more about causes of breast lumps.
Get to know your breasts
Learn what your breasts look and feel like. Their appearance and feel can change at different times of the menstrual cycle.
The milk-producing tissue in the breast becomes active in the days before a period starts.
Some women find that their breasts feel tender and lumpy at this time, especially near the armpits.
After a hysterectomy (removal of the womb), the breasts usually show the same monthly changes until the time your periods would have stopped naturally.
After the menopause, activity in the milk-producing tissue stops. Normal breasts can feel soft, less firm and not lumpy.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that being breast aware means:
- knowing what's normal for you
- looking at your breasts and feeling them
- knowing what changes to look for
- reporting any changes to your doctor without delay
- attending routine breast screening if you're 50 or over
Signs of breast cancer
Be aware of the following changes in your breasts that could signal breast cancer:
- changes in the outline or shape of the breast, especially those caused by arm movements or by lifting the breast
- changes in the look or feel of the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
- any new lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in one breast or armpit, with or without pain, that differs from the same part of the other breast and armpit
- discharge from the nipple (may be bloodstained)
- moist, red areas on the nipple that don't heal easily
- any change in nipple position, such as being pulled in or pointing differently
- a rash on or around the nipple
If you notice any of these changes, see your GP.
Watch videos of women talking about their breast cancer symptoms.
Watch videos of men talking about their breast cancer symptoms.
Many women worry that breast pain may be a sign of a serious condition. However, breast pain by itself is not a symptom of breast cancer, and breast pain does not increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
More on breast cancer
- Read about breast cancer diagnosis and the treatment of breast cancer
- Find cancer support services near you
Article provided by NHS Choices