Finding breast cancer early

This page is about finding breast cancer early.

Breast awareness

In Ireland, every woman between the ages of 50 to 64 are invited for a free mammogram on an area-by-area basis every two years through BreastCheck. The aim of BreastCheck is to reduce deaths from breast cancer by finding and treating the disease at an early stage. If you receive an invitation to attend BreastCheck, you should attend the appointment. It is a free service which could help save your life. To check if you are on the BreastCheck register, click here.

Whatever your age, it is important to be breast aware. Even with BreastCheck, many breast tumors are first spotted by women themselves. This may be because the woman is too young to have started screening, or may have reached an age past the screening criteria. It may also be that the breast cancer developed in between mammograms.

However if breast cancer is found early, it is easier to treat and there will be a better chance of cure.

 Breast changes to look and feel for

Being breast aware simply means getting to know how your own breasts normally look and feel. If you notice a change that isn’t normal for you, visit your GP without delay. Nine out of ten breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous) but it is important to visit your GP to be sure. Remember that the earlier breast cancer is found, the better the outcome.

Watch this short video to learn how to check your breasts:

Here are some quick tips:

  • Remember to check your breasts every month

 

  • The week after your period has ended is the best time. If you are in menopause, check your breasts around the same time every month.

 

  • Check your breasts in front of a mirror so you can look for changes. Look for:
    • If one of your breasts has gotten larger or lower. Remember that it is normal for your breasts to be different sizes. You are looking for a change in size of one of your breasts.
    • If any veins stand out more than usual for you
    • Puckering, dimpling or redness of the skin
    • Check nipples for any changes such as redness, crusting, or change in shape or direction

 

  • Some women also find it comfortable to check their breasts in the shower so that they can feel for changes. Check for:
    • Lumps
    • Thickening of breast tissue
    • Bumpy areas that seem different from other breast tissue

 

  • Remember, check your armpits and collar bone.

If you are not sure how to check your breasts, ask your GP or practice nurse next time you are visiting.

 Click here to download our free infographic about breast cancer risks, prevention and self-examination. 

What to do if you find something

If you find something has changed while examining your breasts, don’t panic. Most breast changes are benign (non-cancerous). However, it is important that you see your GP without delay so that you can be sure.

Remember that if it is cancer, the earlier you seek treatment, the better the outcomes are.

If you like, consider asking a good friend or family member to come with you for support.

If you have concerns about breast cancer, you can use the Marie Keating Foundation’s free Ask the Nurse Service by clicking here. This is a free and confidential service.