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How to check for breast cancer symptoms

Early detection of breast cancer is the best way of ensuring you get the right treatment as early as possible. Screening mammograms are a very important tool, and women are recommended to undergo mammographic screening depending on their age and risk of developing breast cancer and advise from your doctor.

Being breast aware is also very important. Women should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and, if you notice a change, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. A few examples are highlighted below, however they do not cover everything that might feel abnormal.

How to check for breast cancer:

You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to know what’s normal for you, and check both breasts regularly for symptoms like lumps, dimples, discharge or discolouration.

Please remember that in most cases, changes to the breast aren't symptoms of cancer, but if you notice changes, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Changes to look out for when doing a breast self-exam include:

  • A new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
  • Your breast changing in size or shape
  • Any changes to the nipple, such as redness, inversion, crusting or discharge without squeezing
  • A change in the skin, like redness or dimpling
  • An unusual pain that doesn’t disappear
  • Check your breasts regularly, at the same time every month, and remember to check up to your armpit. In most cases, changes to the breast aren’t symptoms of cancer, but if you notice a change, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Breast cancer myths

There is a lot of information about breast cancer online, in the community, and passed on from friends and family that is simply untrue. Thanks to breast cancer research we can help you work out myth from fact about the causes of breast cancer.

  • Myth: If I have a breast lump, it’s cancer.
    Truth: Most breast lumps are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Benign lumps can be cysts (lumps or sacs filled with fluid or other material) or they can be due to normal breast changes associated with hormonal changes and ageing. Remember, if you notice a change or something unusual in one of your breasts, see a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Myth: Only women get breast cancer.
    Truth: Men can also develop breast cancer, although it is rare, accounting for just one in 675 cases of breast cancer.
  • Myth: There is a 'cure' for breast cancer.
    Truth: Breast cancer is not one disease, but a complex group of different types of tumours. Thanks to research, we now know that at a molecular level tumours act and respond to treatments differently, so a one-size-fits-all treatment or single breakthrough won't be applicable to all types of breast cancer. Researchers are looking for the answers to all known subtypes of breast cancer.
  • Myth: Bumping or bruising the breast can cause breast cancer.
    Truth: There is no evidence that an injury can cause breast cancer, but it might draw attention to an existing lump.
  • Myth: Breast cancer is contagious.
    Truth: You can’t catch breast cancer. It results from uncontrolled cell growth, but these changes cannot affect another person.
  • Myth: Wearing an underwire bra causes breast cancer.
    Truth: There is no proof that wearing an underwire or tight-fitting bra increases your risk of breast cancer.
  • Myth: Underarm antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
    Truth: This common myth about breast cancer stems from an email rumour circulating some years ago that claimed the chemicals in antiperspirants cause breast cancer by leading to a build-up of toxins in the lymph glands under the arm. There is no conclusive evidence to support this. The American Cancer Society says a large study published in 2002 found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant or deodorant use, or underarm shaving.
  • Myth: Having an abortion or miscarriage causes breast cancer.
    Truth: Research has shown there is no link between termination of pregnancy – whether abortion or miscarriage – and an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Myth: Not breastfeeding my child can cause breast cancer
    Truth: Research has shown that pregnancy and breastfeeding provides long-term protection for women from breast cancer, even into their 60s and 70s. There is no link between not breastfeeding and breast cancer, but the more months spent breast feeding, the lower your risk of developing the disease, especially if you breastfeed for longer than 12 months.