Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia, with one in eight Australian women estimated to be diagnosed with the disease by the age of 851. It is more commonly diagnosed in women over 50 years of age. However, it is not uncommon for younger women under 40 to get breast cancer too, who often have faster growing cancers.
Why it’s important to be breast aware
When breast cancer is detected early, there is a far greater chance of successful treatment and a wider range of treatment options available. Early detection can make all the difference.
Keeping up your regular breast screening and being breast aware are two ways that can help detect breast cancer early.
While breast cancer in men is far less common, accounting for less than 1% of all cases, it is just as important for men to be breast aware.
There is no one correct way to perform a breast self-examination. What is important is that you know your own breasts so you can be aware of any changes that are different for you.
You might like to start by looking at your breasts in the mirror, so that you become familiar with the normal look, shape and size of your breasts and nipples. Take the time to do this regularly, at least once a month, so you can check for any changes over time.
It is also important to know how your breasts feel so you can be aware of what feels normal for you. You could do this in the shower or when getting dressed, so it becomes part of a routine. You should feel all parts of your breasts and nipples, and all the way to your armpits and collarbone.
Remember, all women are different. Your normal breasts might feel smooth or lumpy. Knowing how your breasts feel normally gives you a better chance of picking up any unusual changes or any new lumps that should be checked.
Some things to look out for include:
- A new lump
- Unusual lumpiness or heaviness especially if it is in one breast only
- A change in the size or shape of your breast
- A nipple discharge, particularly if bloody or clear
- A change to the nipple including nipple inversion
- A change to the skin such as dimpling, redness or thickening and tightening of skin on your breast
- Any unusual pain
You may like to consider using the same process each month, such as this example.
If you do notice any unusual changes, please do not delay, and ensure you visit your doctor as soon as possible to organise a breast ultrasound and/or a mammogram.
Not all lumps are visible on breast imaging, and a biopsy and referral to a breast specialist is usually recommended.
- Cancer Australia. 2021. Breast cancer in Australia statistics. Retrieved on 11 October 2021 from https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/breast-cancer/statistics
- Cancer Australia. 2020. Breast cancer awareness. Retrieved on 11 October 2021 from https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/breast-cancer/awareness/breast-cancer-awareness
- Breast Cancer Network Australia. 2021. Breast awareness. Retrieved on 11 October 2021 from https://www.bcna.org.au/breast-health-awareness/breast-awareness/
- RACGP. 2021. Breast cancer. Retrieved on 11 October 2021 from https://www.racgp.org.au/clinical-resources/clinical-guidelines/key-racgp-guidelines/view-all-racgp-guidelines/guidelines-for-preventive-activities-in-general-pr/early-detection-of-cancers/breast-cancer
- Hackshaw AK, Paul EA. Breast self-examination and death from breast cancer: a meta-analysis. Br J Cancer. 2003 Apr 7;88(7):1047-53. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6600847. PMID: 12671703; PMCID: PMC2376382.
- Cancer Council. 2021. Breast cancer. Retrieved on 11 October 2021 from https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/breast-cancer
- Cancer Australia. 2015. Early detection of breast cancer. Retrieved on 11 October 2021 from https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/resources/position-statements/early-detection-breast-cancer
- Cancer Australia. 2020. What are the symptoms of breast cancer?. Retrieved on 11 October 2021 from https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/breast-cancer/symptoms-and-diagnosis/what-are-symptoms-breast-cancer
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