I never really thought about having my boobs checked until I was in my early twenties. A friend from my hometown posted about having a preventative double mastectomy, we were only 20 [years old], and she had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene. That was the first time I realised that a) breast cancer was something I needed to be more aware of as the proud owner of some C-cups and b) breast cancer isn't just something for us to worry about post-40.
After reading her story, and admiring her for taking control of her life, I decided to speak to my GP about how I could become more breast aware. My family doesn't have a history of breast cancer, but that doesn't mean I'm immune. During my consult, I got my kit off, and for the first time in my life, I really looked at my boobs.
We talked through the shape, the way my nipples looked, what they felt like, and what to keep an eye out for should anything pop up or change. From that day forward, I became much more aware of my girls. I'd routinely feel them up in the shower looking for any new lumps or bumps. Post-shower, I'd drop my towel in front of the mirror and inspect how they were looking. I've even been known to nervously ask boyfriends to "feel this" if I wasn't super sure. So far, I've been lucky enough not to find anything suspicious enough to cause alarm, but you can bet that if I ever do, I'll be off to my GP to get it checked out.
The thing about breast cancer is that despite being the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, with 1-in-7 women being diagnosed in their lifetime (and 1-in-675 men), it does have a high survival rate if detected and treated early. That's why getting to know your girls is SO important.
If you're not sure where to start, below are some helpful tips we've pulled together thanks to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Get to Know Your Girls
You don't need to use any special techniques, just start to get to know your boobs during your usual routine like showering, getting dressed, applying body lotion and looking in the mirror. And be sure that you're checking out all the goods, your armpits and up to your collarbones included. Being familiar with the look and feel of your boobs means that you'll easily be able to identify any unusual changes that might pop up. Think new lumps, thickening in the breast — especially if it's only the one — changes to the shape or size of the boob (outside of your usual period-fluctuation) or changes to the shape of the nipple.
Know What They Should Kinda Feel Like (Although No Two Boobs Are the Same!)
While no two boobs are the same (literally), it's important to note how yours look and feel so that you can alert your doctor if you identify any new or persistent changes that are different for you.
Lumps That Aren't Your Bumps
A new lump is one of the most common signs of breast cancer. Lumps that are breast cancers can vary and they can be painless or painful. However, lumps can also be a sign of a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition, so it's important to see your doctor and have it checked out straight away.
When to See a Doctor
It is important to remember that like other parts of our bodies, our boobs will go through changes over time and fluctuate. While most breast changes aren't caused by cancer, if you have noticed any of the above symptoms or changes in your breasts, go see your doctor asap!
It's important to remember that breast awareness does not replace having regular mammograms and other screening tests as recommended by your doctor. All women between 50-74 years should attend regular screening mammograms every two years. You can get them done for free BreastScreen Australia. Women aged 40-49 and 75 years+ are also eligible for free mammograms.
If you have a family history or you are concerned that you may have an increased risk of breast cancer, talk to your GP or local family cancer clinic. Your doctor can help you assess and manage your breast cancer risk and will advise of any additional precautions or screening are required.