Be breast aware: Our guide to self-examination and breast cancer symptoms


Introducing The Harley Medical Group guide to performing a self-examination for breast cancer symptoms. October is known globally as the month of Breast Cancer awareness. Whether you are one of the 55,000 women or 370 men diagnosed with breast cancer each year, have been impacted by breast cancer through a family member or friend, or have observed the life-changing effects of breast cancer in the media, it is important for us all to be breast aware.

October is the perfect time to improve your understanding of breast cancer, the associated signs and symptoms, and develop your self-examination technique. We are here to provide the guidance and education you need for a successful Breast Cancer Awareness Month and beyond.

breast cancer awareness month woman holding pink ribbon 

Why is breast awareness important?

In the UK, 1 in 7 females will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.

Early diagnosis is key when it comes to improving breast cancer prognosis. When a breast cancer is detected whilst it is small and localised, the chance of successful removal is improved. In fact, 98% of women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least 5 years. When breast cancer is diagnosed later on, this is reduced to around 26%. You can read more about the importance of early diagnosis on the CRUK cancer intelligence pages.

Being breast aware is the best way to enable early detection. The only way to identify abnormal change is to be aware of what ‘normal’ means for your body. This means that it’s important to get to know your body and talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you notice something that doesn’t seem right to you. Performing a regular self-examination for breast cancer symptoms is an easy way for you to take control of your health.

Breast cancer screening

In the UK, the NHS breast screening programme invites women between the ages of 50 and 70 for a mammogram every 3 years. Women over the age of 70 are also eligible for continued screening but will need to arrange this via your local breast clinic. Mammography is an excellent way to pick up internal changes in breast density, and other possible indicators of breast cancer. However, regular breast self-checking is essential in between mammograms to maximise the likelihood of changes being detected early.

When suspicious changes are noticed, a visit to the GP could either put your mind at ease or allow further exploration through referral to the specialist breast clinic.

At The Harley Medical Group we are committed to ensuring the health, safety and well-being of our clients, and have put together a simple guide to self-examination for breast cancer symptoms to help you familiarise yourself with what is normal for you and your body.

Self-examining your breasts: What you need to know

Although breast cancer incidence increases with age, it is never too early to begin familiarising yourself with your body through self-examination. The best time to do your monthly breast examination is about 3-5 days after your period finishes, depending on the cyclical changes to your breasts. You should examine your breasts consistently once a month, leaving a long enough gap to detect a change, but regularly enough to know what is normal for you. If you do not menstruate, you should examine your breasts on the same day each month. We recommend keeping a journal to record any natural changes in the breast.

If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, visit your doctor to get them checked:

  • Breasts that have changed in size, shape, colour or outline
  • Breasts that have become distorted or swollen
  • A change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • Redness, soreness or rash on the skin overlying the breast
  • Asymmetrical ridges at the bottom of the breast
  • A new lump, thickening or a bumpy area in one breast or armpit that is different from the same area on the other side
  • Nipple discharge that's not milky, such as blood-stained or clear discharge
  • Bleeding from your nipple
  • A moist, red area on your nipple that doesn't heal easily
  • Any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in (inverted) or pointing differently
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • Any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it's new pain and doesn't go away (although pain is only a symptom of breast cancer in rare cases)

the harley medical group breast cancer self-examination technique

How to do a self-examination for breast cancer

For many women, the most convenient place to examine their breasts is during or after a shower when they are undressed and can access a mirror.

A self-examination for breast cancer symptoms involves five steps:

  1. Start by standing with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips and look at your breasts in the mirror. You should check for:
    • Changes in the size, shape, and colour of the breasts
    • Any visible distortion or swelling
    • Any dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin
    • Changes to either nipple
    • Any redness, soreness, rash or swelling.
  2. Next, look to see if any of these changes occur when you raise your arms.
  3. Still looking in the mirror, check for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples.
  4. Next, begin to feel your breasts with your hands. Use your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. It’s important to use a firm, smooth touch, keep your fingers flat and together in a circular motion, and you should cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side. It might be helpful to divide each breast into quadrants to ensure you have covered the entire breast.

IMPORTANT: Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you've reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

  1. A section of the breast extends towards the armpit and this should not be forgotten during the examination.
  2. Finally, each armpit should be examined for any abnormal nodules or lumps. This should be done firmly and in all directions.
  3. It can be helpful to repeat the examination whilst lying down, as the breast tissue spreads across the chest wall.the harley medical group breast cancer self-examination technique, self-examination for breast cancer

Learn from our implant partner Macom's Marketing Director, Nadja, how to perform a self-examination for breast cancer.

Posted October 19, 2022
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