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NHS Choices Condition

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Breast awareness is an important issue for all women, and being aware of how your breasts look and feel at different times of the month can help you detect any problems early on.

Breast cancer is rare in women under 40, but the likelihood of developing breast cancer increases with age. 80% of breast cancers occur in woman aged over 50. If you are aged 50 or over, you should take advantage of the NHS Breast Screening Programme, which offers three-yearly mammography (a special x-ray of the breast). If you are registered with a GP, you will automatically be invited for screening every three years. Your first invitation will arrive some time between your 50th and 53rd birthday.

As part of being breast aware, it is important to know what is normal for you. For instance, your breasts may look or feel different at different times of the month and at different times during your life.

Before the menopause normal breasts feel different at different times of the month. The milk-producing tissue in the breast becomes active in the days before a period starts. In some women, the breast at this time feel tender and lumpy, especially near the armpits.

After a hysterectomy the breasts usually show the same monthly differences until the time when your periods would have stopped.

After the menopause activity in the milk-producing tissue stops. Normal breasts feel soft, less firm and not lumpy.

If you notice any changes to what is normal for you, tell your doctor without delay because it could be the first sign of cancer.

All women should follow the breast awareness five-point code:

  • Know what is normal for you.
  • Know what changes to look for.
  • Look and feel.
  • Report any changes without delay.
  • Attend for breast screening if aged 50 or over.

Changes to look out for include:

  • any change in the outline or shape of the breast or any puckering or dimpling of the skin,
  • any discomfort or pain in one breast that is different from normal,
  • any lumps, thickening or bumps in one breast or armpit that is different to normal,
  • any discharge or bleeding or moist reddish areas that will not heal easily,
  • any change in nipple position or a nipple rash.

For more information about breast awareness, please go to www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk (links to external site).


Risk of breast cancer in over 70s

About one third of all breast cancers occur in women over the age of 70, making them more at risk than younger women.

If you're a 70+ woman, you're still eligible to be screened every three years even though you won’t receive invitations. You can make your own screening appointments by contacting your local screening unit direct. Your GP will have contact details for the unit, or you can phone NHS Direct on 0845 4647. Screening can detect small changes in the breast before there are any outward signs or symptoms. The earlier any changes are found the better chance there is of successful treatment and recovery.

For more information about screening if you're aged over 70, please go to www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk (links to external site).

view information about Cancer of the breast female on www.nhs.co.uk »

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