Let’s Talk… Breast Self-Checks and GP Screening

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in Australia. About one in eight women will be diagnosed by the time they’re 85. Men can also develop breast cancer, but it’s much less frequent.

Thanks to ongoing research, the most common types of breast cancer now have good long-term outcomes, especially if the cancer is found and treated early.

That’s where breast self-checks and breast screening with your GP play a very important role.

First, you may know that the National Breast Screening Program offers 2-yearly free mammogram screening to women aged 50 to 74. BreastScreen Victoria provides the service in Victoria and will be in touch if you’re eligible, or you can contact them directly. Note: This service is NOT available if you have breast cancer symptoms – instead, you should see your GP straight away.

Let’s talk about your other options for breast checking and screening, so you know what you can do to help with early detection before you turn 50 or between your regular mammograms (once you’re eligible).

A breast self-check doesn’t replace having a regular mammogram and vice versa. You should be doing both (if you’re eligible).

Breast awareness and self-checks

Breast cancer can develop in women of any age, even young women. The earlier it’s found, the much better chance you have of surviving it.

It’s recommended you do breast self-checks each month from your 20s onwards to help with early detection.

Getting to know the normal look and feel of your breasts can help you notice any changes that could indicate cancer or another problem.

Making a regular habit to check your breasts is the smartest choice. Many women choose a day of the month (often the first day of each month) and set a calendar, diary or alarm reminder to make sure they don’t forget.

How to do your breast self-check

In front of the mirror:

  • stand with your hands on your hips, and your shoulders straight
  • look at the shape, size and colour of your breasts and nipples
  • raise your arms in the air and look for the same things

Under the shower (because it’s easier when your breasts are wet/slippery):

  • stretch your hands so your palms are flat like a plate
  • use your index and middle fingers to examine the opposite breast in turn
  • feel your whole breast area from collarbone to tummy, including your armpits

What you’re looking for: 

  • lumps
  • painful areas (tenderness)
  • skin that’s dimpled, flattened, puckered, different in any way
  • changes in breast shape, colour or size
  • nipple changes
  • nipple discharge
  • itching, rash or discolouration

What to do if you notice any changes

Book to see your GP straight away. Your doctor will examine you, talk with you about your symptoms and health, and arrange for any follow-up testing that’s needed.

Keep in mind that only a small number of changes and lumps turn out to be breast cancer. Some changes are quite normal and can happen because of menstruation, pregnancy, breast feeding or aging. Your doctor will be able to guide you.

Breast screening with your GP

In addition to your regular breast self-checks, you can visit your GP and ask them to examine your breasts. You might opt for this if you’re not confident about examining your own breasts, or if you prefer a professional approach.

Some GPs offer a breast check as part of your routine health surveillance.

You don’t need to have symptoms to ask your doctor to examine your breasts. It’s a great way to check in and get some tips to build your confidence about doing your own self-checks. Ask your doctor to talk you through the steps of the breast check and what you should be looking for. You can learn a lot this way.

It’s also a chance to discuss your breast cancer risk factors with your doctor and talk about any lifestyle changes you might choose to make – for example maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active and limiting alcohol intake.

If your doctor does find something unusual during the examination, they will be able to work through your options and next steps with you on the spot.

Book online to visit your Caroline Springs GP consulting from Active Medical or call 03 9363 0954 to find out more about checking your breasts or regular breast screening, or to talk through any concerns you have.

Find out more:

BreastScreen Victoria

Cancer Council

Cancer Council Victoria

Health Direct

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health