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How (and why) to check your breasts

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Lauren Geall
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A woman touching her breasts

Regularly checking your breasts for any abnormal changes could save your life. Here’s how to get started.

In a world where we’re constantly on the go, checking our breasts can often slip to the bottom of our to-do lists. But regularly checking your breasts is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

Knowing how your ‘normal’ – aka, how your breasts typically look and feel – can allow you to spot any changes quickly and report them to your GP. 

And when it comes to breast cancer – a condition that will affect an estimated one in seven women in their lifetime, according to Breast Cancer UK – that early detection is crucial in ensuring a good chance of recovery. 

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The only problem? Despite knowing how important it is to regularly check our breasts, many of us simply don’t know where to start: according to the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel, only half of young women feel confident to start checking their boobs. 

So, what is the right way to check your breasts, and how often should you be doing it?  

How to check your breasts properly 

First off, it’s important to remember that breasts come in all different shapes, sizes and designs, so checking your breasts isn’t about comparing yours to a stock image – it’s about knowing what ‘normal’ both feels and looks like for you.

As Kris Hallenga, founder of CoppaFeel, previously told Stylist: “All boobs are different and nobody knows your body better than you do. So make sure you check once a month, using whatever method you are comfortable with.”

It’s also worth noting that your breasts look and feel different at different times of the month depending on your menstrual cycle, so make sure you get accustomed with your body’s normal patterns. And remember that breast tissue goes right up to your collarbone and into your armpit, so it’s important to check these areas, too.

Once you’ve worked out what normal looks like for you, you’re in prime position to notice any changes. According to the NHS, we should be on the lookout for:

  • a change in the size, outline or shape of your breast
  • a change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • a new lump, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit that is different from the same area on the other side
  • nipple discharge that’s not milky
  • bleeding from your nipple
  • a moist, red area on your nipple that doesn’t heal easily
  • any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in or pointing differently
  • a rash on or around your nipple
  • any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it’s a new pain and doesn’t go away (although pain is only a symptom of breast cancer in rare cases)

Finally, if you notice any change – no matter how small – go and get it checked out by your GP. 

For a visual guide on how to check your boobs, you can check out our video tutorial above. And for more information, visit the NHS website.

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This article was originally published on 27 August 2020 and has since been updated throughout.

Image: Getty

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.