Symptoms

In most cases, cancer of the breast is first noticed as a lump in the breast. However, other signs to be aware of are:

  • Constant pain in one part of your breast
  • A change in size or shape - it may be that one breast becomes larger
  • Changes in the nipple - in direction or shape, pulled in or flattened, or an unusual discharge, especially if bloodstained
  • Changes on or around the nipple - rash, flaky or crusted skin
  • Changes in the skin - dimpling, puckering or redness
  • ‘Orange peel’ appearance of skin caused by unusually enlarged pores
  • Prominent veins that have become more noticeable
  • Lump or swelling or constant pain in armpit

Pain in both your breasts is not usually a symptom of breast cancer. In fact, many healthy women find their breasts feel lumpy and tender before a period, and some types of benign breast lumps are painful.

Early detection

The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the long term prospects for women with the disease.

Screening

BreastCheck, the national Breast Screening Programme, was set up in 2000. BreastCheck invites women aged 50-64 years to come for a free mammogram (breast X-ray) every two years. Phase 1 of the programme covers the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the Midland Health Board and the North Eastern Health Board areas. Phase 2 will include the rest of the country. You will be notified by post when BreastCheck is screening in your area. To find out if you are registered, freefone 1800 45 45 55.

BreastCheck screens otherwise healthy women to diagnose early breast cancer, which is very treatable. BreastCheck aims to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer in women between 50 and 64 years by at least 20% within 10 years. It is advisable for all women over the age of 50 to have a mammogram every 2 years. Outside of the screening programme, referral from a family doctor is necessary as he/she will receive the results of your mammogram.

A small number of breast cancers cannot be identified by a mammogram. If you feel a lump after having a normal mammogram, you should discuss this with your doctor immediately. If you have a family history of breast cancer you should ask your doctor about the best type of screening for you. Women who have had breast cancer are advised to have a mammogram on a regular follow-up basis.

Breast awareness

Changes in the breast tissue can be detected by mammography before the development of a lump large enough to be easily felt with the fingers. However, the vast majority of breast tumours are detected by women themselves. It is not necessary for you to examine your breasts on a regular basis, unless you want to. You should, however, become familiar with how your breasts normally feel at different times of the month. You will then quickly be aware if there are any changes in your breasts that are not normal for you.

If you are concerned about anything unusual in your breasts, you should make an appointment to discuss this with your doctor. For a free information pack on breast awareness please call ABC’s freefone helpline 1800 30 90 40.

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