Health & Safety

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Breast Cancer

26 July 2009

Breast cancer kills 15,000 women a year - but if it is caught early it is easier to treat. You can do a lot yourself to detect the disease.

breast cancer awareness ribbon

Examine your own breasts

You should do this once a month, preferably right after your period. Start by lying flat on your bed, with your left hand behind your head, using your right hand to examine your left breast. Begin at the nipple using the flat part of your fingers, not the tips, and make small circular movements around your breast spiralling outwards. Now bring your arm down and use the same small circular movements to feel up to your armpit, then up to your collarbone and to the middle of your chest.

Repeat on your right breast. Then stand up and look at your breasts in the mirror. Get to know how they normally feel and look.

You are looking for:

  • Changes in size and shape,
  • Unusual dimpling or puckering in either breast,
  • Veins standing out,
  • Changes in skin texture or skin rash,
  • Unusual lumps or swelling.

If you find any of these things don't panic! Most lumps are harmless, particularly in young women. But you must see your GP immediately.

Most successfully treated cancers have been detected by women who have examined their own breasts.

Women over 50

Once you reach the age of 50 you will probably be sent an invitation to attend for mammography. This is a form of screening done by X-ray and normally only used on women over 50 as the monthly changes in breast tissue make it difficult to detect changes and lumps in the breast by this method in younger women. Mammography is uncomfortable but not normally painful and it is a very effective way of detecting small lumps in the breast at a stage when they are more easily treatable. If you have any family history of breast cancer, it is particularly important to ensure that regular screening is carried out as well as breast self-examination.

Breast cancer in men

Breast cancer is usually thought of as a female condition, but around 1% of breast cancers occur in men. Around 300 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

Despite the small numbers, male breast cancer is a significant risk to life. It is most common in men over the age of 60. Few men are aware of it and it is often diagnosed later than in women. The cancer therefore tends to be more advanced when it is diagnosed, and harder to treat.

Check symptoms with a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or NHS Direct and mention your specific concerns.

Telephone help line

NHS Direct: 0845 4647