Get information about breast health, common breast conditions and treatments, and how to get your breasts checked.
Throughout our lives, our breasts go through many changes. They can change in shape and size as our hormones change, such as through puberty and pregnancy, and they can change in function, such as when we use them for breastfeeding.
Breasts are such a critical part of our bodies. It is important to be aware of your breast health and ensure that common conditions don’t worsen before seeing a doctor.
Breast cancer is one of the most common breast conditions, affecting 1 in 9 women.
Breast cancer, a disease which occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control, can occur in the breast and surrounding tissue. Some people have no symptoms, but a lump is found on routine examination, but any new breast pain, changes to breast skin texture or appearance, nipple discharge or bleeding should be reported to your GP.
Your chances of getting breast cancer increases with age so we recommend you conduct regular breast checks especially after age 50.
Learn more about women’s cancers.
Other Common Breast Conditions
Whilst breast cancer is one of the most common conditions, there are other concerns that can affect breasts as well. Other conditions can include:
- Cysts, which are pockets of fluid trapped in the breast tissue. These are most common in women aged 35-50. Many cysts are harmless and disappear on their own, but you should always see your doctor if you feel any lumps or unusual textures in your breast to make sure it is not cancer.
- Fibroadenomas, which are also lumps. These are made from tissue or glands and can be painful or painless. As with cysts, always get any lump checked by your doctor immediately.
- Nipple changes, including dryness, discharge, or cracked nipples. There can be a number of reasons nipple issues occur, from thrush to breastfeeding issues, but if you are not pregnant or breastfeeding it may be more of a cause for concern, such as an infection. See your doctor if you feel any pain or discomfort or if you have any concerns.
Getting your Breasts Checked
Many symptoms of the breasts are normal, hormonal changes associated with our menstrual cycle. Soreness, tenderness and enlargement of the breasts are common before your period is due.
But if you notice differences in your breasts, or soreness, sharp pain or other discomfort outside your usual hormonal changes, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
According to BreastScreen Australia, some signs or symptoms to look out for include:
- A change in the size or shape of your breasts
- A change to the nipple such as crusting or redness
- A nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
- A new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
- A change in the skin such as puckering or dimpling
- Your nipple becoming inverted (or pulled in)
- An unusual pain in the breast that does not go away
While regular self-examinations are a good way to check for any irregularities (such as lumps or changes in breast appearance or texture), they do not replace medical examinations.
Check with your GP
You can see your GP for a breast examination whether you have found something yourself or not. Many doctors will also conduct a breast check when doing a mole map or cervical screen. Your doctor should always ask your permission before examining your breasts.
Your doctor may also arrange for you to get a mammogram and / or ultrasound of your breast. If anything of concern is found, your doctor may discuss management options with you and refer you to a breast surgeon or oncologist if required.
BreastScreen Australia is a national breast cancer screening program which conducts mammograms to find breast cancers early, before they can be seen or felt. Women aged 50 to 74 are sent an invitation to participate in the program. If you haven't received your invitation, contact BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50 to check if your details are correct.
If surgery is required, there are a range of options your specialist doctor may recommend. These will be designed to suit your specific needs and circumstances and can include: