Knowing the signs of breast cancer as well as participating in breast screening can help to find breast cancer at an early stage, improving the chances of successful treatment. Breasts come in all shapes and sizes and will change throughout your life. Your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, age and weight may alter the size, shape and feel of your breasts.
If you get to know your breasts and what is normal for you, you may be more likely to notice any unusual changes.
We encourage all women to check their breasts regularly by:
- Looking in the mirror and checking your breasts from time to time.
- Taking a few minutes to feel them while you are in the shower or bath, lying in bed, or getting dressed.
- Feeling all the breast tissue, from the collarbone to below the bra-line, and under the armpit.
Being breast aware is always important but especially as you get older because the risk of breast cancer increases with age. The average age at diagnosis is 62 years old. (3)
Being breast aware is more than just checking for lumps. Abnormal changes you should look out for include:
- A lump, lumpiness or thickening in the breast
- Changes in the size or shape of the breast
- Changes in the nipple – turning inward (inversion), itchy skin, sores, crustiness
- A clear or bloody discharge from the nipple
- Changes in the skin –dimpling (like an orange peel), puckering, redness
- Pain or swelling in the armpit
- Persistent new breast pain
Most breast changes are not breast cancer, however it is important to have any changes checked by your GP, even if your last mammogram was normal.
For more information on being breast aware, take a look at our Breast Awareness for all women brochure.
Only women with no breast symptoms should participate in breast screening.
It is recommended that all women 50 years and over participate in mammography screening. Women aged 50 to 74 years will receive an invitation to screen at BreastScreen WA every 2 years.
Western Australian women 40-49 years of age are also eligible to participate. Conducting screening tests on women younger than 50 years of age is less effective because breasts are denser, making signs of cancer hard to detect. If you are 40-49 years of age and thinking about breast screening, ask your GP about whether it is suitable for you.
In WA, around 55% of eligible women participate in breast screening, however in some populations (including regional women, Aboriginal women, and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds), screening rates are lower. (4)
Women may avoid or delay breast screening for a number of reasons. BreastScreen WA can support women in overcoming these barriers, which include:
- Fear of the outcome – Screening mammograms are used to find breast cancers early, often before they can be felt. Earlier detection, when the cancer is small and confined to the breast provides the best chance of effective treatment.
- Fear of pain – The mammogram may be uncomfortable, but it should not hurt. Compression only lasts a few seconds and you can stop at any time.
- Embarrassment – At BreastScreen WA, a specially trained female radiographer will be taking your images. Clinics are safe, accessible and inclusive. Radiographers are highly experienced and there isn’t a breast they haven’t seen or screened before.
- Lack of time and competing priorities – Appointments should only take 15 minutes from start to finish, with the actual compression only lasting a few seconds. Appointments are available before and after work and some weekends.
- Location – For women living in rural and remote areas, BreastScreen WA has 4 mobile trucks that offer screening services to over 100 sites throughout Western Australia.
For more information about BreastScreen WA visit breastscreen.health.wa.gov.au
Online bookings are available here or phone 13 20 50.
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