Breast cancer awareness

Knowing what your breasts look and feel like, and checking them regularly, can help you detect when something's wrong. Find out what to look out for, including new lumps and changes in shape.

Watch a video on breast cancer screening

Breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women, with just over 46,000 cases diagnosed in England in 2011. Around 260 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. The lifetime risk of any woman in England developing breast cancer is around 1 in 10.

Be breast aware

Detecting 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. Read more about causes of breast lumps.

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) advises 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 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.
  • Nipple discharge that's new for you and not milky.
  • Bleeding from the nipple.
  • Moist, red areas on the nipple that don't heal easily.
  • Any change in nipple position, such as being pulled up or pointing differently.
  • A rash on or around the nipple.

If you notice any of these changes, see your GP.

Breast pain

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

 Find cancer support services near you.


Breast cancer screening

See what happens during a mammogram. Plus, the benefits of mammography and ultrasound are explained.

Media last reviewed: 14/07/2015

Next review due: 14/07/2017

Page last reviewed: 22/07/2014

Next review due: 22/07/2016


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