Body

Keeping ‘the girls’ safe: How to check your breasts

Keep abreast of your self-examining routine.

Know what your "normal" is? Being familiar with your body could save your life when it comes to breast health.
If you notice any unusual changes in your breasts, see your doctor. It could help detect breast cancer early – and early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment.
Nine out of 10 breast lumps are not cancer, but it's important to see your GP about any changes just to be sure. Healthy breasts do change at different stages in your life, especially when hormones are active during puberty, pregnancy, breast-feeding and menopause.
Weight gain and loss, and some medications, may also change the size, shape and feel of your breasts. This is all normal and understanding what "normal" is for you will help you recognise new or unusual breast changes.
Regularly look and feel your breasts – it only takes a few minutes.
Remember TLC – touch, look and check. Touch both breasts, look in a mirror and check any changes with your doctor.
Every year in New Zealand more than 3300 women are diagnosed with breast cancer.
It's extremely rare for teens to have breast cancer and it's still uncommon in your 20s and 30s, but it is still the most common type of cancer for women in their 30s.
From the age of 40, the risk of breast cancer increases, so it's important to keep up to date with regular mammograms.

How to check your own breasts:

  • Feel your breasts – many women prefer to do this in the shower. Look for any lumps, painful areas, dimpled or flattened skin, or anything different from the last time you checked.
  • Stand in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips and your shoulders straight. Look at the shape, colour and size of your breasts and nipples. Look for any changes to their usual shape and colour, any discharge from the nipple (without squeezing) and any redness, rash or swelling.
  • Do an extra check – feel your breasts by lying down with one arm bent above your head. Put three fingers together and, keeping them flat, feel the entire area from your collarbone down, including your armpits. Press softly at first, then more firmly.
  • If there are any changes, check with your doctor, even if you've had a mammogram recently.
There's a new tool that reminds you to monitor your breasts, and shows you how. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ has launched Pre Check, an app to help you "know your normal".