Breast checks


Being familiar with the look and feel of your breasts makes it easier to notice when any changes occur. What to do, what to look for when you conduct a breast check and when to have a mammogram is important for every woman to know.

Breast checks

Breast awareness

If you are familiar with the way your breasts look and feel it will make it easier to notice if any changes occur. From your 20s onwards do the following checks once a month.

  What to do Why
First
  1. Stand in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips and shoulders straight. Look at the shape, colour and size of your breasts.
  2. Next, while still looking in the mirror raise your arms in the air and look for the same things­ – shape, colour and size of your breasts.

A visual check of your breasts will help you to see:

  • the contours of your breasts
  • any changes to their usual shape and colour
  • there is no discharge from the nipple
  • any redness, rash or swelling  
Next Feel your breasts while you are under the shower. This is personal choice but some women like to feel their breasts when they are wet and slippery as it helps them to notice any changes.
Then

Feel your breasts while lying down with your arm bent at the elbow and resting above your head.  Stretch your hands so your palms and fingers are flat like a plate – this will allow you to feel without poking your breasts.

Make sure you feel the entire breast area from your collarbone to your tummy and include your armpits.

This will allow you to feel without poking your breasts. It is another helpful way to look for:

  • lumps
  • areas that are painful
  • skin that is:
    • dimpled
    • flattened
    • different from before
 

breast awareness checks

If you detect a new lump, don't panic. Research shows that 9 in 10 breast lumps are not cancer.

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor about:

  • new lumps
  • new lumpiness
  • changes in the shape of your breast
  • changes in the colour of your breast
  • changes in the nipple
  • discharge from your nipple
  • any persistent breast pain

Mammograms

Breast X-ray screening can show breast changes that are too small for you or your doctor to feel.

Your age When to have a mammogram Other information
Younger than 40 years Regular screening mammograms are not recommended.
  • In younger women the breast tissue is denser and it is more difficult to differentiate between normal and abnormal breast tissue
  • An ultrasound may be more helpful
40-49 years BreastScreen Australia offers free screening mammograms every two years.

Reminders to have a screening may not be sent to you – it depends which state you live in.

50-69 years
  • It is recommended you have a mammogram every two years
  • BreastScreen offers free screening mammograms
  • Breast cancer is most common in women over 50
  • Screening mammography has the greatest benefit for this age group
  • Reminders to have a screening are sent to you
70 years or older
  • BreastScreen Australia offers free screening mammograms every two years
  • Reminders are sent to women aged 70-75

Whether you have a screening mammogram will depend on:

  • your general health
  • whether you have any other diseases or conditions
  • your personal preference

Breast implants

If you have breast implants screening is not harmful, so you should have the screening suitable for your age. Let your doctor know you have implants before your referral.

Arranging a mammogram

BreastScreen is for women who have no obvious breast symptoms. If you are concerned about a breast lump or tenderness, see your doctor first.

To arrange a mammogram (no referral is necessary) visit BreastScreen Australia.

Last updated 11 October 2017 — Last reviewed 30 January 2014

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at January 2014.

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