Woman checking for breast cancer at home using her hand

Even though you might not exhibit any symptoms or changes that you feel are concerning, it’s important to regularly check your breasts to ensure they are healthy. There really is no right or wrong way to check your breasts, but there are some signs you should look out for and some helpful techniques in being able to feel confident about checking for breast cancer at home. 

Breasts are susceptible to change throughout the month, and especially around times when hormones are changing like during your menstrual cycle or during menopause. Due to these changes it is advised that you get to know your breasts, how they feel and look, at different stages of the month so you know what is normal for you. Understanding your own breasts is vital to being able to check them, as all breasts are different shapes and sizes. After going through menopause it is worth noting that breasts become softer and less firm, and have less lumps in them. 

It is encouraged that women should check their breasts regularly and always book a GP appointment if a lump or irregularity is noticed in their breast tissue. Vitality Dr Dawn Richards reminds that men should also be aware that breast cancer could happen to them.

The NHS has a 5-point plan for being breast aware which was created by the NHS Breast Screening Programme to help women and men look after their breasts and regularly check them. 

  1. Know what’s normal for you
  2. Look at your breasts and feel them
  3. Know what changes you should look for
  4. Report any changes immediately
  5. Attend routine screenings if you’re 50 or over

How to check your breasts

When it comes to checking your breasts you should check all parts of your breasts, your armpits and up to your collarbone for any changes that you notice. Some people find it easier to check for changes in their breasts in the shower or bath whilst soapy. You can also use a mirror to check. 

  • Use a combination of your fingertips and palms to check your breasts
  • With your arm raised (alternate between both sides) check one side of your breasts, armpits and up to your collarbones
  • Switch to the other side and do the same checks
  • Repeat the same on both sides with your arms down and relaxed at your sides
  • After feeling your breasts for changes, you can also look at them for visible changes

What changes should you be looking for?

If you know what’s normal for your breasts, then you will be able to notice changes that seem abnormal. Some of the changes that you should be looking for are:

  • A change in the size or shape of your breasts
  • A lump of area of your breast that feels thicker than the rest of the breast
  • Any change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (similar to the skin of an orange)
  • Redness or a rash on or around the area of the nipple
  • Any change to your nipple – this can include shape, size or being pulled inwards
  • Liquid (not milky) that comes from the nipple without it being squeezed
  • Any discomfort or pain in one breast or in your armpit that doesn’t go away
  • A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone

Making sure you report any changes 

Breasts go through many changes which are caused by many different factors and reasons, most of them are normal and not serious or breast cancer. According to the NHS, 9 out of 10 breasts lumps are not cancerous. However, if you notice changes in your breasts or find something you are uncertain about, you should always book an appointment with your GP to get it checked. 

What is more important is that you book an appointment as soon as possible, and don’t leave any time between noticing the abnormality and speaking with a doctor. If you are 50 or over you will be offered routine screenings which you should attend to ensure your breasts are healthy. 

For more information on checking your breasts, breast screenings and being breast cancer aware in general, please check the NHS website.

It’s not just breast cancer that women need to check when it comes to health. From smear tests and mental health checks, to the common things you should ask your doctor, here are 5 ways that women can protect their health.

We know that everyone worries about cancer, which is why we partner with Check4Cancer to ensure members have access to early cancer detection checks and genetic services testing. These services have continued to stay open during the pandemic and VitalityHealth* members who think they may have a symptom of cancer are urged to refer themselves, speak to Vitality GP or their NHS GP now. Log in to Member Zone for more details or find out more about Vitality health insurance and cancer cover.

*Qualifying members can access discounted checks for bowel cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer. Check4Cancer’s team of specialists have extensive clinical expertise and evidence-based services that are supported by audit data. 

For more information or any questions please see our Coronavirus FAQs and Check4Cancer FAQs for more information.