What does it mean to “be breast aware”?

Your breasts undergo many natural changes throughout your life. Being “breast aware” means knowing how your breasts normally look and feel, so you can notice any unusual changes. Some changes can indicate a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition, but there is a possibility it could be breast cancer. The sooner breast cancer is found, the earlier it can be treated.

How do I look and feel for breast changes?

There is no right or wrong way to check your breasts. You do not need to follow a particular method or schedule for checking your breasts. The important thing is for you to be familiar enough with your breasts to be able to notice changes. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Check your breasts in a way that is comfortable for you – one way to feel your breasts is to use the flat part of your three middle fingers, moving in a circular motion, using gentle to firm pressure to feel all the breast tissue
  • Feel your breasts for changes while lying down in the bath or standing in the shower
  • Remember that breast tissue extends up to your collar bone and under your arm pits, so check these areas too
  • While looking in a mirror, check your breasts for any changes; leaning forward and changing the position of your arms (hands on hips, arms out at the side, arms raised) may help you see changes in your breast

If you notice breast changes, see your doctor or health care provider.

What are some examples of normal breast changes?

Most women have changes in their breasts during their lifetime, due to the variations in hormone levels. These breast changes can include:

  • Growth at puberty
  • Swelling, lumpiness or tenderness before a menstrual period
  • Increasing size and firmness during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Loss of firmness and fullness at menopause

What kind of changes should I be concerned about?

  • A lump or swelling in the breast or armpit
  • Changes in the size or shape of one breast compared with the other
  • Dimpling, puckering or in-drawing of the skin of the breast
  • Redness, swelling and increased warmth in the affected breast
  • Skin that is pitted (like an orange peel)
  • A nipple that turns inwards (and wasn’t like that before)
  • Crusting or scaling on the nipple
  • Discharge or bleeding from the nipple

What should I do if I notice a change in my breast?

If you notice any changes in your breast, it is always best to go see your doctor or health care provider to have it checked out. If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to a walk-in clinic to consult a doctor. You can also call the free Telehealth/Telemedicine helpline in your province to speak with a nurse about your concern.

Links to more information

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One New Thing
An awareness campaign by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encouraging people to make gradual lifestyle changes, whether they are big or small, to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Breast Awareness
Rethink Breast Cancer