All you need to know about breast awareness

Why do I need to be breast aware?

Breast cancer affects women of all ages, so it's important that all women check their breasts regularly to pick up any changes - from your early 20s and onwards. Yep, that means you. Breast awareness is important because if you know how your breasts normally look and feel, you're more likely to pick up any changes if any develop.

How often do I need to be breast aware?

As well as seeing your doctor for a clinical breast examination, you should start checking them yourself from time to time when you become breast aware in your early 20s. The aim? To get to know how your breasts look and feel, so any change is easy to see or feel.

How can I be breast aware?

There's no right or wrong way to check your breasts. The first step is just to try to get used to looking at them and feeling them. Look at your breasts in the mirror to see if there are any changes, and get to know the way they feel.

You can check your breasts standing up, in the shower or lying down. If you have a partner, they can help keep an eye out for any changes in your breasts too (and they probably will be more than happy to do so!).

Look at the shape and appearance of your breasts and nipples in the mirror with your hands by your sides. Raise your arms above your head and look for a change in the shape of your breasts, and feel for lumps in your nipple area and in the armpit. Feel the breast tissue, from the collarbone to below the bra-line, and under the armpit.

Need some more inspiration?

  Check out our helpful breast awareness video below.BA Video2


What to look out for?

  • A general change in size or shape.
  • A lump or lumpiness, or even a change in appearance of your breast (such as dimpling redness and appearance of veins).
  • An area that feels different to the rest of your breast.
  • Any pain in your breast that is not usually present.
  • Any change in the shape or appearance of your nipple, such as your nipple being pulled in or development of a rash.
  • A discharge from your nipple, particularly if it's bloody.
  • A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.

The McGrath Foundation's Curve Lurve App will show you how to lurve your curves and record anything that isn't normal for you. You can also personalise your profile and set a reminder each month for your next breast awareness session. You can download the App here.

 When's the best time to be breast aware?

Check your breasts from time to time, however a good time to check your breasts is after the last day of your menstrual cycle. This is because during your period, your breasts can feel a little tender or lumpy - so it's best to give them a chance to settle down before you examine them.

If you do notice a lump just before or during your period, it is generally OK to wait until after your period to see if it goes away. If it hasn't disappeared then, see your GP right away to be properly checked out.

And, if you don't have periods, the best idea is to just check your breasts regularly when they are soft and not tender (such as on the first day of the month).

 What if I do find a change in my breast?

First of all, don't panic. Most changes in the breast are not related to breast cancer, so chances are you'll be just fine. However if you do find a lump, or notice a change in your breast, it's important to visit your GP immediately. Remember, the sooner you see your GP after finding a change in your breast, the better. Your GP will conduct a clinical breast examination to let you know if further testing is needed.

What is breast density and how does it affect me?

Breasts are made up of a mixture of fat and fibroglandular tissue - every person's breasts have a unique mix of both types of tissue. On a mammogram, fat appears dark, while the fibroglandular tissue appears white or 'dense.' Dense breast tissue is normal, occurring in around one third of women aged over 50, although it usually reduces with age. It can also be hereditary, so if your mum had dense breasts, there's every chance you will as well. The only way to tell if you have dense breasts is by a mammogram; it can't be felt during a self-check.

Since cancers also appear as white on a mammogram, it can potentially be more difficult for a radiologist to analyse a mammogram done on dense breasts. Radiologists determine the ratio of nondense tissue to dense tissue and assign a level of breast density. Women who have dense breasts should talk with their doctor about developing a screening plan that's tailored to their unique needs.

Recent research indicates that higher breast density is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, although as yet the Australian Government, through Cancer Australia, has not made any specific health recommendations or guidance on managing breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer. Should formal guidance be issued by the Australian Government, the McGrath Foundation will review whether and how to include breast density within our communications.