Breast awareness

If you know what your breasts normally feel and look like, you will be able to notice any changes. Your GP or practice nurse can tell you what to look for. There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ breast. Every woman’s breasts are different and yours will change during each month and during your life. For example, before the menopause your breasts will feel different at different times in the month.

Here are some changes you should look for:

  • changes in the shape of your breast
  • discomfort or pain
  • lumps
  • changes to your nipple.

If you notice any changes to your breasts, it’s best to get them checked by your GP. The changes could be for many other reasons, other than cancer. But getting them checked earlier means that treatment may be more successful.

Know how your breasts normally look and feel

All women should be aware of how their breasts normally feel and look so that they can detect any changes, even if they are having regular breast screening. Breast awareness is part of general body awareness. It’s a process of getting to know your breasts and becoming familiar with their appearance.

Learning how your breasts look and feel at different times will help you to know what’s normal for you. You can become familiar with your breast tissue by looking at and feeling your breasts – you can do this in any way that’s best for you (for example, in the bath or shower with a soapy hand, or when you’re getting dressed).

If you aren’t sure what to look for, or if examining your breasts makes you anxious, you can ask your practice nurse or GP to show you. You can also go to a well-woman clinic to learn how to check your breasts. Your GP or practice nurse can give you details of your nearest clinic.

Normal breasts

There is no such thing as a 'standard' breast. What is normal for one woman may not be for another. Throughout your life your breasts will change. Below are some descriptions of a normal breast at different stages of your life.

Before the menopause

Normal breasts feel different at different times of the month. The milk-producing tissue in the breast becomes active in the days before a period starts. In some women, the breasts at this time feel tender and lumpy, especially near the armpits.

After the menopause

Activity in the milk-producing tissue stops. Breasts normally feel soft, less firm and not lumpy.

After a hysterectomy

The breasts usually show the same monthly differences until the time when your periods would have stopped, unless your ovaries have also been removed. If your ovaries are removed before your natural menopause, you will have an early menopause and your breasts will change.

Changes to look out for


Any change in the outline or shape of the breast, especially caused by arm movements or lifting the breasts. Also any puckering or dimpling of the skin.


Discomfort or pain in one breast that is different to what is normal for you.


Any new lumps, thickening or lumpy areas in your breast, collarbone or armpit, that seem to be different from the same area on the other side, and do not disappear after your monthly period.

Nipple changes

Look out for the following changes to your nipples:

  • nipple discharge that is new for you and not milky
  • bleeding or moist, reddish areas that don’t heal easily
  • any changes in nipple position – if the nipple is pulled in or pointing differently
  • a rash on or around the nipple.

If you are aware of any change in your breast from what is normal for you, tell your doctor as soon as possible. If a cancer is present, the sooner it is reported, the simpler and more effective the treatment is likely to be. Remember, you’re not wasting anyone’s time.

There are many reasons why your breasts may change. Most of them are harmless, but all of them need to be checked by a doctor, as there is a small chance that they could be the first sign of cancer.

Back to Breast screening

The breasts

Breasts are made of fat, supportive (connective tissue) and glandular tissue that contains lobes (milk glands).