Know Your Breasts

Your Breasts

It is important for all women to remain breast aware throughout their lives.

Your breasts will go through many normal changes during your lifetime. These are due to changes in hormones that occur during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding and the menopause. This leaflet explains the different types of breast changes that can occur. Remember most are harmless but you should always discuss any concerns with your GP.

Know What Is Normal For You

The menstrual cycle

Each month your breasts often change.They can become bigger, tender and lumpy usually before a period starts and return to normal once the period is over.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Your breasts can change during pregnancy.While breastfeeding, your breasts may be very enlarged, firm and tender; this is normal at this time.You should, however, continue to be breast aware and discuss any unusual changes with your GP.

The menopause

After the menopause your breasts will feel softer and they may get bigger or smaller. If there is a change in only one breast, you should discuss this with your doctor. Continue to be breast aware during and after the menopause.

Breast Pain

Breast pain, also called mastalgia, is a very common problem.About one third of women will experience it at some stage.There are two types of breast pain: cyclical and non-cyclical.

Cyclical pain

This is related to your menstrual cycle (periods) and changing hormone levels.Your doctor may ask you to keep a chart to find out if there is a pattern to your pain, which clearly links it to your menstrual cycle. Cyclical pain is usually more intense during your teenage years and again in your forties. It has no relation to cancer.

Non-cyclical pain

This usually arises from the breast itself or from the muscles and ribs under the breast.This type of pain is often described as a burning or drawing-in sensation. It may be caused by wearing the wrong size bra. All breast changes should be discussed with your GP.

Breast Lumps

Breast lumps can appear at any time during your life. They can be large or small, soft or rubbery, fluid-filled or solid.Your doctor should check all lumps. Many women experience the following types of lumps during their life:

Generalised breast lumpiness (also called fibrocystic changes or fibrocystic disease)

Your breasts may feel tender, painful or swollen. Lumpy breasts become more obvious as you approach middle age. Such lumpiness is often described as glandular or nodular and usually occurs in both breasts.

Fibroadenoma

This is the most common solid lump found in women at any age. It is caused by the over development of fibrous tissue in the breast.There is no need to remove a fibroadenoma unless it becomes painful or very large. If you develop one after the age of 30 your doctor may advise you to have it removed. Removing a fibroadenoma is a simple procedure and it can be done as an outpatient.

Cysts

These are swollen, fluid-filled sacs, which often become enlarged, tender and painful just before your period.They can disappear on their own, but if they don’t, they should be checked by a doctor.

Fat necrosis

This is a painless firm lump formed by damaged tissue. It usually occurs in response to an injury to the breast.

Download the complete "Know Your Breasts" brochure (pdf 1.88 MB).