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Your questions answered

How should I check my breasts?

There’s no single way to check. Everyone has their own way of touching and looking for changes – there’s no special technique and you don’t need any training.  The important thing is that you get to know your breasts and armpits and what’s normal for you, and that you check them regularly.  For general advice, please visit our section on how to check your breasts.

 

What changes should I look out for?

It's common for a woman's breasts to be a different size or shape, so this in itself is nothing to worry about.  Breasts also change throughout your life and often feel different because of hormonal changes.  For example, just before a period, they may feel lumpy.  Changes that are part of your monthly cycle are normal and you shouldn’t worry.

It's important to check your breasts and underarm area regularly so that you know what's normal for you at different times of the month.  Visit our section on the warning signs of breast cancer for the changes to look out for.

 

If I find an unexplained change in my breasts, what can I expect when I see my GP?

Your GP will ask you some questions about your symptoms and examine your breasts. GPs follow national guidelines when referring patients to a one-stop breast clinic.  If you have any of the breast symptoms required for an urgent referral such as a discrete lump, your GP will refer you, and you will have your clinic appointment within two weeks. 

 

I’ve been invited to breast screening; do you recommend that I go? 

Yes.  Breast screening (routine breast x-rays, called mammograms) helps to spot breast cancer early, often when it is too small to see or feel.  Find out more, and look out for your invitation.

 

I’m over 50 and attend breast screening. Do I still need to check my breasts myself?

Yes. Mammograms don't protect you from breast cancer. The national breast screening programme aims to invite women aged 50-70 for a mammogram once every three years, so it is very important to check your breasts regularly in between screening appointments. Find out more about breast screening

 

I’m worried about a friend. She’s found a lump in her breast and is too scared to go to her GP. What should I do?

You can tell her that most breast changes, including lumps, aren’t cancer but it’s important to get them checked out by a doctor straight away. Even if is cancer, nine out of 10 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage survive. And spotting it early increases the likelihood of needing less severe treatments that don’t cause hair loss or result in the removal of a breast.  

You could encourage your friend to make an appointment with her GP straight away. She can ask for a female doctor, and can take someone along with her to the appointment if she needs extra support.

If you think it will help, you can also send her a link to this website so she can find out more for herself. 

 

I think I’ve found a lump in my breast, but I’m not sure.  It just feels different to normal at this time of the month. Should I wait and see if it goes away?

No, don’t wait.  If you’ve noticed something that looks or feels unusual in your breast or armpit, the best thing to do is to check it out with your GP. Most breast changes, including lumps, aren’t cancer but it’s important to get them checked out by a doctor straight away.

 

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK.  It is caused when breast cells multiply out of control to form a lump called a tumour.  There are different types of breast cancer, which behave differently in how fast they can grow and what causes them to grow. These cancer cells can develop the ability to spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.

 

Can I reduce my chances of getting breast cancer?

Yes.  There is no single cause of breast cancer – it results from a combination of factors, some of which you can’t change, such as your age, height and genetics, but some of which you can.  For example, maintaining a healthy weight, doing regular exercise, and lowering your intake of saturated fat and alcohol can all reduce your risk of breast cancer.