Finding breast cancer early

It is important to know what your breasts normally look and feel like. You could do this by looking at your breasts in the mirror and feeling them from time to time. If you are pre-menopausal, get to know what is normal for you at different times of the month. If you notice any of the changes listed below, see your doctor. Seeing your doctor sooner rather than later increases your chances of cure if it is breast cancer.

So mammograms help find breast cancer?

Something we do know for sure is that having regular mammograms finds breast cancers earlier and saves lives. The biggest benefit is for women aged between 50 and 74 years, and regular mammograms can cut the number of deaths from breast cancer by up to one-third in this age group.

All women aged between 50 and 74 should have a mammogram every two years to screen for breast cancer. To book a free mammogram, call BreastScreen on 13 20 50. If you want to stop screening mammograms after the age of 75, discuss it with your doctor.

Mammograms are free for women aged 40 and over. Mammograms may not be as reliable for women aged 40 to 49 because their breasts are denser than older women’s. The benefit is greater if you are in your late forties rather than your early forties, and if you have a family history of breast cancer. If you are aged between 40–44 the harms of screening may outweigh the benefits – speak to your doctor about your individual circumstances. Mammograms aren’t reliable for screening women under 40.

Remember, you should see your doctor straight away if you notice any changes in the list below – no matter what age you are.

  • A lump, lumpiness or thickening. For younger women – if this is not related to your normal monthly cycle and remains after your period. For women of all ages – if this is a new change in one breast only.
  • Changes to the nipple. Such as a change in shape, crusting, a sore or an ulcer, redness or turning in of the nipple when it used to stick out.
  • Discharge from the nipple. If this is from one nipple and is bloodstained, or occurs without squeezing.
  • Changes in the skin of the breast. Such as dimpling or indentation of the skin, unusual redness or other colour change.
  • Persistent, unusual pain. If this is not related to your normal monthly menstrual cycle, remains after your period and occurs in one breast only.
  • A change in the shape or size of a breast. This might be either an increase or decrease in size.

Courtesy of iSource National Breast Cancer Centre

For information and counselling, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.