Breast awareness is about encouraging women to become more aware of their bodies generally and to get to know their own breasts. This is an important issue for all women in their mid-20s and onwards, as learning how their breasts look and feel at different times will help women know what is normal for them and to recognise any irregular changes.
There is no such thing as a standard breast and what is normal for one woman may not be for another. One woman's breasts will also look and feel different over time depending on the time of the month and the woman's age.
The UK Department of Health's policy on breast awareness has strong support from the nursing and medical professions. It encourages women to check their breasts for what is normal for them but does not recommend routine self-examination to a set technique. No scientific evidence has shown that a formally taught, ritual self-examination, performed at the same time each month, reduces the death rate from breast cancer or is more effective than a more relaxed breast awareness.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme and Cancer Research UK set out a five-point plan for women:
1. Know what is normal for you
2. Look and feel
3. Know what changes to look for
4. Report any changes without delay
5. Attend for breast screening if aged 50 or over (or 47 if invited as part of the age extension trial)
Some women we spoke with said they examined their breasts every month, as they'd been advised to do in the past. Others said they were familiar with their breasts and occasionally felt them for possible changes. One said she started checking her breasts after she had a benign lump. Many advised women to be breast aware and see their GP if they had any concerns. One woman, who'd had breast cancer, encouraged younger women to be breast aware and not to dismiss any unusual changes just because they were busy. Another said that both men and women should be breast aware. She advised her sons to be 'vigilant' of any unusual breast changes (see our information on symptoms of breast cancer in men). Most women said that, as well as being breast aware, women over 47 should attend for routine mammograms (see 'Message to others').
- Age at interview:
- A retired civilian manager in the police. Married with no children.
I think I would like ladies to be very familiar with their breasts and at one time it was considered we had to feel our breast for lumps, particularly at certain times of the month. But I think the feeling on that has changed now and it isn't a matter of a certain time of the month and not always in the monthly cycles necessarily, nor for lumps either because I didn't have any lumps. But I want ladies to be as familiar with their breasts as they are with their face, you know.
And I'm going to be getting a little lump here on my face or my eyebrows need tweezing, well be like that about your breast. When you're having a bath or a shower, just feel your breast with soapy hands, you can feel, you know. If you're making a cup of tea, you could just sort of feel yourself around the breasts.
Look in the mirror and get familiar with the shape of your breasts and if you see one is slightly small, larger or, than the other one or one looks a bit swollen or you've got something wrong with your nipple, it's going inwards or there's some puckering around your nipple, it's probably perfectly all right but you and see your GP and let him know. So get familiar with your breasts and if you notice any changes at all, don't think, oh it's probably the time of the month or I've been wearing a bra that's too tight or anything. Anything at all that you feel that is different, go and see your doctor.
- Age at interview:
- Does voluntary and freelance work in cancer services. Married with 2 adult children.
Well, anything you discover on your body that isn't natural or isn't, it shouldn't there, don't pretend, don't dismiss it, get it checked out. Because I know for a fact that if I had been, if I'd said, "oh well, it's just a lump, everything's clear, I can't be bothered. I'm too busy, I've got to go back to work" then I might not be here today telling you this. Because I know younger women who, with cancer that had moved so fast and, unfortunately, you know, they leave behind younger families because it just moves too fast. So don't, anything of concern, don't dismiss it.
Get it checked out. We all get embarrassed, we don't, none of us like going to the doctors, but it's a very small price to pay. A very, very small price to pay. And, again, while it's there, you may dismiss it but it will be with you all the time and getting rid of it will give you peace of mind. It will give you peace of mind. And, you know, your family deserve it and you deserve it. More than anything else, you deserve a peace of mind. Yes, it will give you peace of mind, knowing that you've got it checked out.
- Age at interview:
- A housewife and part-time child minder. Married with 2 adult children.
And I also had to reassure my two sons. I had no daughters to worry about with the genetic link in breast cancer but my, one of my sons is living in England, away from home and every now and then he would phone me and say "Mum should I be checked out, I mean I know I'm a man but should I be checked out?" Because there is a fear, although men's cancer is quiet rare, there also is that fear, you know, that it could be genetically linked. And what I've always told them is just be vigilant, just watch and see and don't panic.
Last reviewed March 2016.
Last updated March 2016.