What’s the first thing you think to look for when you hear the phrase ‘check your breasts’? It’s often the idea that you’re looking for a lump. Right? Did you know that there are actually 12 symptoms of breast cancer that can help you be more confident to report a persistent breast change? We bet you also didn't know that the changes to look out for are very similar for both women and men.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, with 9 people losing their lives to the disease every day. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Australia, 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and about 1 in 700 men are diagnosed with the disease too. But thanks to research the relative survival rate for breast cancer in Australia has improved from 76% to 91%.
As a brand that creates intimates - it seemed fit for us to use our platform to talk to breast cancer and use the month of October to simply be breast aware - because if you grow them, you should know them.
So, what should my breasts feel like?
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that only you can really know your breasts. The way breasts look and feel will vary for every person. That is why it is so important to be breast aware as this will ensure you can acknowledge a change - if there is one. Remember, October is a reminder to check your breasts - but checking should be made part of your monthly routine.
“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
What are the 12 symptoms?
The following 12 signs are things to be aware of. Yes, sometimes it is just your body but a change noticed that is persistent - is best checked by your doctor. It is important to note, different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Changes in the shape of the nipple
- Pain in any area of the breast
- Growing veins
- Nipple retraction
- Thickening of the nipple or breast skin
How should A breast self-exam be performed?
In the Shower
With the pads/flats of your 3 middle fingers, check the entire breast and armpit area pressing down with light, medium, and firm pressure. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, hardened knot, or any other breast changes.
In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
What does a lump feel like?
A new lump is one of the most common signs of breast cancer. Lumps that are breast cancers can vary. For example, they may be painless or painful. Lumps can also be a sign of a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition. However, if you have found a new lump or breast change, it is important to see your doctor so that it can be checked by a health professional.
When should I see a doctor?
A breast change doesn't always mean it is ‘cancer’. However, being breast aware is invaluable and if you do see a sign, have a symptom, don't feel right or simply just want to be sure - we encourage it! Early detection gives the best possible chance of survival if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
It is important to remember that breast awareness does not replace having regular mammograms and other screening tests as recommended by your doctor. Some people diagnosed with breast cancer have signs or symptoms. However, some women have no signs/symptoms and the breast cancer is found during a screening mammogram.
How often should I get a mammogram?
In general, women should have a yearly clinical breast examination by a doctor beginning at age 20 and start having annual mammograms beginning at age 40.
BreastScreen Australia offers free mammograms to women aged between 40 and 74 years. If you experience any breast symptoms or unusual changes, see your doctor without delay.
If you have a strong family history or you are concerned that you may have an increased risk of breast cancer, always talk to your doctor. Your doctor will help you assess and manage your breast cancer risk and will advise of any additional precautions or screening you may require.
Mammograms are not recommended for male breast cancer screening in Australia. However, other tools to check include a clinical breast examination, an ultrasound and a biopsy.
So, do men get breast cancer?
So many people assume breast cancer affects women only. Breast cancer affects both men and women, because men and women both have breast tissue. About 1 in 700 men are diagnosed with breast cancer* in Australia. If you are a man or are reading this and have men in your life - it is important to make them always aware and let them know that if there are any new and unusual changes to their breasts - they should be aware and seek attention.