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 treatment is more effective. Knowing what your breasts normally feel like will help you be aware of any abnormal changes.

But not all changes are a sign of breast cancer. Some women have cysts or thickening of the breast tissue, which is normal. Find out 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 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 when 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

Changes in the breast

Be aware of the following changes in your breasts:

  • 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
  • discomfort or pain in one breast that is unusual, particularly if it is new and persistent
  • any new lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in one breast or armpit 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. 

More on breast cancer

Find cancer support services near you.


Breast cancer screening

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

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Page last reviewed: 22/07/2014

Next review due: 22/07/2016


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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Fagoniatea said on 28 February 2015

This is really a well informative article i will share it thanks.

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Yabbayabba said on 01 January 2013

The whole breast cancer screening programme is patronising. Women do not need to be given a pre-arranged appointment as if they are little children. It's up to them to decide whether to go for breast screening and to make the appointment themselves. Besides mammography increases the risk of cancer and they are not given a gown to wear unlike people having chest x-rays. Thermography and ultrasounds are safer alternatives.

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shaze55 said on 07 December 2011

Yes, I agree that this is not a totally comfortable procedure, but it is a must for all women who have been called to have one! On my 3rd visit,I had no signs, lumps or symptoms, but was called back within 2 weeks, with a diagnosis of breast cancer which had spread to my axilla nodes, It just makes me wonder what would have happened if I hadn't gone, because it was uncomfortable.

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Missty 7 said on 23 October 2010

Breast cancer screening can be unpleasant. It is a shame the video does not explain just why it is uncomfrtable. I also find it patronsiing to be referred to as a Lady rather than a patient or simply a woman. It sounds like the nurse is from a Victorian era with a patronising use of words. Yuck !

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