When to see your GP
It is important you see your GP as soon as possible if you notice a lump in your breasts so your doctor can find out what is the cause. Finding a lump in your breast can be a worry. However, around 90 per cent of breast lumps are benign (not cancer).
You also should see your GP if you notice any other changes to one or both of your breasts, such as:
- an area of thickened tissue
- nipple discharge, which may contain blood
- a change in the size or shape of your breasts
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipples
- a change in your nipple's appearance – for example, becoming sunken into your breast
- persistent pain in your breasts or armpits
- a lump or swelling in your armpits
This information may help give you an idea about what the issue might be. Don't use it to diagnose yourself with a condition. Always leave that to a health professional.
Most breast problems are not breast cancer but you should see your GP straight away to get any problems checked out. There are different conditions that can cause problems with your breasts. These include:
A breast abscess is a painful collection of pus that forms in the breast. Most abscesses develop just under the skin and are caused by a bacterial infection. Breast abscesses commonly happen as a complication of mastitis. Mastitis is a condition that causes breast pain and swelling (inflammation).
Breast lumps are common and have a number of different causes. Although most lumps aren't breast cancer, any unusual changes to the breasts should be checked by a GP as soon as possible.
Breast pain, also called mastalgia, affects most women at some point. Read more about some of the possible causes of breast pain and when to see your GP.
Breast cancer in women
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women in Northern Ireland. There's a good chance of recovery if it's detected in its early stages. It’s important women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always get any changes examined by their GP.
Breast cancer in men
Breast cancer is a condition that men can also get. It is over 100 times less common in men, than in women, in Northern Ireland. It usually occurs in men over 60, but can very occasionally affect younger men. You should see your GP if you have symptoms of breast cancer.
Mastitis is a condition which causes a woman's breast tissue to become painful and inflamed. It's most common in breastfeeding women, usually within the first six weeks after giving birth. You should speak to your midwife or health visitor, or contact your GP, as soon as possible if you think you might have mastitis.
Nipple discharge isn't usually a sign of anything serious. But it’s a good idea to see your GP to get it checked just in case.
Paget’s disease of the nipple
Paget's disease of the nipple is a rare condition associated with breast cancer. It causes eczema-like changes to the skin of the nipple and the darker skin surrounding it (areola). It's usually a sign of breast cancer in the tissue behind the nipple. See your GP if you notice changes to your nipple or areola skin.
Checking your breasts
It's important to be "breast aware". This is so you can identify any problems in your breasts and get them checked out as soon as possible.
Breast aware means:
- being familiar with your breasts
- knowing what is normal for them
- examining them regularly for any changes
If you are a woman 50 years or over, it's also important to go to breast cancer screening appointments every three years. At the appointment, a type of X-ray called a mammogram will be carried out to look for early signs of cancer.
But don't wait until your next screening appointment if you notice any problems in your breast, see your GP right away. Screening is necessary in women as a breast cancer can be more difficult to detect amongst breast tissue.
In men, a breast lump will be more easily recognised. Any unusual lump appearing should be checked with your GP, if you do not know what it is.
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