Breast health and symptoms
BreastScreen Aotearoa is a programme designed for women who have no apparent breast problems.
Women of any age who feel or notice anything unusual about their breasts should see their doctor. Breast symptoms can be assessed for free through the public health system.
Don't wait to have a screening mammogram. A mammogram by itself does not detect all cancers.
Important information about breast cancer
- The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age
- Free mammograms (breast x-rays) are available for women aged 45-69 years through the BreastScreen Aotearoa programme
- Screening mammograms detect breast cancer before you can feel or notice anything unusual
- Early detection and treatment can save lives
- Mammograms need to be repeated every two years
- Most women who have two-yearly mammograms will be informed they have no evidence of breast cancer
- Most women who develop breast cancer have no relatives with the disease
- Women of any age who feel or notice anything unusual about their breasts should seek advice from their doctor.
Breast symptoms or concerns
Most lumps and symptoms will not be cancer. However, if you notice any breast symptoms or changes, it is very important that you see your doctor straight away. Don't wait for your next screening mammogram.
Possible signs of breast cancer are:
- a new lump or thickening
- a change in breast shape or size
- pain or tenderness in the breast that is unusual
- puckering or dimpling of the skin
- a rash or reddening of the skin that appears only on one breast
- any change in one nipple, such as a turned-in nipple or a discharge that occurs without squeezing.
- a rash or reddening appearing only on the breast
All breasts have areas of lumpiness that fluctuate with the menstrual cycle.
In younger women: most lumps have a hormonal basis, so if any lump persists after one menstrual cycle it should be examined by your doctor.
In older women new lumps should be investigated straightaway by your GP.
You may find breast cancer earlier by being aware of your breasts and any changes that are not normal for you.
Looking at your breasts in the mirror and being aware of any new change them while washing or dressing is important as you get older, especially after age 40. This is recommended for all women, even if they are having mammograms.
These changes are not usually subtle, and feel very different to normal breast tissue (even if that is lumpy to the woman).
In the past, some women were taught a formal technique of breast self-examination. This recommendation is no longer made as there is no evidence that this formal self-examination will reduce a woman’s chances of dying from breast cancer. It can also increase a woman’s risk of having unnecessary biopsies.
If you notice any changes in your breasts you should always see your doctor even if you have just had a mammogram. Your doctor may then refer you for further tests.