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Examining your own breasts

It is important to examine your own breasts regularly so that you know what is normal for you and you pick up any changes early. If you are having periods the best time to examine your breasts is after a period as that is when your breasts are less likely to feel lumpy. If you don’t have regular periods, or if you keep forgetting there are websites such as ‘Coppafeel’ that will send you regular reminders to examine your breasts.

Start by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your arms at your side to see if they are their normal shape, size and colour. Look at the skin for any dimpling or redness. Particularly look for any changes around your nipple area such as a nipple that is pulled inwards or in a different direction to how it is normally. Please note it is normal for some women to have one or both nipples going in (inverted), and if that has always been the case for you then that is fine; what is important is to pick up any changes that are new for you. Also look for any fluid that is coming from your nipple but please do not squeeze your nipple to try to produce fluid as this will tend to encourage fluid to come as a natural response similar to breast feeding.

Next raise your arms above your head to look for any skin dimpling or changes that become visible when you do this.

Feel all around your breasts using the flat of your hand. If you use finger tips or hold the breast tissue between your fingers then you will tend to feel more lumpiness because you are compressing the breast tissue. By using the flat of your hand you will be flattening the breast tissue, making it easier to feel lumps that are ‘real’. When you are feeling your breasts it is useful to be lying down on your back, particularly if your breasts are large, as this will also help to spread the breast tissue out. However, some women prefer to examine their breasts standing up in the shower, and this can help because your hand is slippery and will glide over the breast more easily. Whichever method suits you best is fine, but make sure that you cover all of the breast tissue, either in a circular pattern or going up and down. You will also need to feel in your armpits for any lumps; this is easier with your arm relaxed and down by your side.

Tell your doctor about any skin changes, nipple changes, nipple discharge or lumps that you feel. Remember that most people who come to a breast clinic with a breast symptom do not have cancer and will be able to be reassured; however if you do have a breast cancer the earlier it is found and treated the more successful the treatment will be.

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