Breast self-awareness: Knowing your normal


by Grace Akinyi-Joseph, MD

Nov 29, 2018

Many changes occur naturally in our breasts throughout our lifetime. These changes happen at certain times in the menstruation cycle, during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, and before and after menopause.

But sometimes, changes in the breast can be a sign that something is wrong — possibly breast cancer. By regularly examining and looking at your breasts, you can familiarize yourself with what is normal for you.

Know your normal

A self-examination includes physically examining your breasts by touch and visually by looking at them.

It’s important to “know your normal.” By feeling and looking at your breasts in the mirror regularly, about once a month, you will be able to notice changes in density, size, color, shape and firmness that might be significant. Some of these changes may occur consistently during certain periods of the month, so knowing your normal will allow you to notice masses or pains that are out of the ordinary for you.

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The specific changes you should watch for include:

  • Change in size or shape of your breasts or nipples
  • Hard lumps, masses or knots in your breasts
  • Hard, firm knots in your armpit area
  • Dimpling, puckering or ridges on the breast
  • Sores, redness and warmth of your breast skin
  • Itchy, scaly or sore rash on nipple
  • Bloody nipple discharge

Know your risk factors

But breast health goes beyond regular self-exams. Apart from physical familiarity with your breasts, knowing your controllable risk factors can also make a difference. These include being overweight or obese, and tobacco and alcohol consumption. This information can help you and your doctor make decisions about your breasts and your overall health that are right for you.

Related: What doctors look for in a mammogram

Know your family history

Knowing your family history can help you manage your breast health, help prevent breast cancer and assist in early detection and treatment.

It’s also important to know your family history. Make sure you are familiar with which family members have had breast cancer, where the cancer genes in the family come from, and if certain family members have had recommendations to get tested for a particular gene or cancer. All of this is vital information that may mean you should have early check-ups, genetic counseling or tests. Knowing your family history can help you manage your breast health, help prevent breast cancer and assist in early detection and treatment.

Related: All you need to know about 3-D mammograms

When it comes to breast health, every woman is different — and only you can know your normal. As always, if you think something is wrong, contact your doctor.

Don’t have a doctor to answer your breast health questions? Find one near you.

About the Author

Dr. Grace Akinyi-Joseph, is an oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – College Station.

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