How to check for breast cancer

Most of us know that checking for breast cancer is important, but what should you look for and when should you book in for a screen?

What am I looking for when checking for breast cancer?

According to Cancer Australia the most important thing is to be aware of how your breasts normally look and feel, to know how to check for a breast lump or other signs of breast cancer. If you notice changes to the size, shape or skin of the breast, or you have any concerns, you should see your doctor.

Warning signs to look out for when checking for breast cancer:

  • A lump or thickening of the breast tissue (especially if it’s only on one side)
  • Changes to the skin; puckering, dimpling, sores, discoloration, redness or peeling
  • A change in the nipple eg. inversion, crusting, ulcers, unusual redness
  • Fluid or discharge from the nipples
  • New persistent pain

How to self-examine your breasts

There are many ways to examine your breasts and check for breast cancer. The key is to make time to work these checks into your day so they become routine. A few extra minutes at least once a month is all it takes and it could save your life.

The mirror check

Stand in front of a mirror with your hands at your sides and look for any changes to the skin or the shape of your breasts. Move your hands to your hips and push your shoulders forward flexing your chest, paying attention to any changes, dimpling or puckering. Lastly, raise your hands in the air for a final check.

The shower check

Place one hand behind your head. Using the pads of your fingers of your other hand, feel the breast tissue from the collarbone to the bra line and across as far as the armpit. Start with a soft circular motion to check the surface, then use firm pressure to check deeper in the tissue. Repeat on each side.

The laying down check

Lay down on a bed and place a pillow under your right shoulder. Position your right hand behind your head. Using a circular motion, move the pads of your fingers gently along the entire breast tissue. Squeeze the nipple to ensure there are no irregularities, discharge or lumps. Swap arms and repeat for the left breast.

It's important to remember that while not all breast lumps are sinister, all need to be checked by a doctor. Read more about the importance of self-breast examinations here. 

A chart showing how to check for breast cancer

Do I need a breast screen?

If you have a family history of breast cancer it’s important to talk to your doctor about when to get a breast screen or mammogram as well as checking for breast cancer yourself. 

All Australian women over 40 are eligible for a free mammogram every two years under the national screening program BreastScreen Australia.

About 75% of all breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. BreastScreen Australia invites all women from 50-75 to book in for a mammogram every two years.

Those who have been treated for breast cancer should talk to their doctor about how often they should be screened.

Learning how to check for breast lumps and other changes isn't difficult but it is important. According to the McGrath Foundation, mothers can play a vital role in encouraging their daughters to be aware of their breast health

Click here to print out a simple guide on how to check for breast cancer (shown above). You can stick it in your wardrobe door as a reminder, or use it to start an important conversation with a loved one. 

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