Breast Screening

Breast awareness

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').

Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated March 2016.

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