How to check for breast cancer

Two young people are standing in the street talking about how to check yourself breast cancer

We all know we should check our breasts for lumps and bumps, but what are the signs of breast cancer, anyway? And how do you do a breast self exam? Read on to find out how to check for breast cancer.

What are the signs of breast cancer?

Overall, the average risk of a woman developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about thirteen percent (one in eight), and early detection is very important to make sure it’s identified before cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. 

Some lumps are not cancerous, but anything you spot should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Warning signs include:

  • A change in the shape or size of the nipple or breast, one breast may become noticeably larger or lower.
  • Any changes to the position or colouring of the nipple.
  • Discharge from one or both nipples.
  • A rash around the nipple.
  • Dimpling, denting, scaling or discolouration of the skin.
  • A lump or swelling in the breast, armpit or arm. We have lymph nodes in our armpits that can swell as a sign of many common illnesses, but this might also be an indication that breast cancer has spread here, even if you can’t find a lump in your breasts.
  • A pain in the breast or armpit that is new for you.
  • A distinct lump, like a pea, or thickening in the breast that feels different from the rest of the breast.

You might also like to check out our article on ‘normal boobs’ to learn about all the different shapes and sizes they naturally come in.

How to check your boobs

As the breast tissue can vary at different times of the month, it is important to check your breasts at the same time. The best time to do your check is one week after the end of your period.

  • Stand in front of the mirror with your hands at your sides and check your breasts to see if they look any different. Repeat with your hands on your hips, pressing the shoulders and armpits forward.
  • Then clasp your hands behind your head and turn from side to side to check that both nipples move up and down at the same time.
  • While in the bath or shower, raise your left arm and feel your left breast with the flat of your right hand. Starting from the outer top, press firmly enough to feel the tissue underneath and move in a circular motion. When you have completed a circle, move inwards slightly and repeat circling. Continue this until you have checked the entire breast, including the nipple. Also check the area above the breast, especially the armpit. Repeat on the other side.
  • Lie with a pillow under your left shoulder and repeat the check. Don’t freak out if you do find anything, just get it checked out by a doctor. There’s absolutely no need to be embarrassed or ashamed. They’ve seen it all before – it’s their job.

Remember, if you manage to catch breast cancer early, most women (around 98%) will survive their cancer for 5 years or more after diagnosis. That’s why it’s so important to do regular checks and go to your breast cancer screenings, where they can use X-rays to look for cancers that are too small to see or feel.

Learn more about women’s health in our other articles here.

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Updated on 02-Sep-2022