Here's what to do if you think you've found a lump in your breast
"The most important thing is to stay calm."
Although the rate of breast cancer in women is increasing (1 in 10 women in Ireland will now be diagnosed with the cancer in their lifetime), early detection is key - and often leads to positive results.
Women should be checking their breasts every month, usually between seven and 10 days after their period ends.
Bernie Carter, senior oncology nurse at The Marie Keating Foundation, tells Her that it is crucial that all woman - irrespective of age - are checking their breast regularly.
"The cancer is more common in women over the age of 50, but women of all ages can develop it," she says.
"Especially if there's a history of breast cancer in the family, and especially if the mother or sister has the genetic type BRCA (the gene that increases a young woman's risk of developing breast cancer).
"We don't want to alarm women, because breasts can often feel lump for different reasons especially around the time of your period, but we should all be checking regularly."
To check your breasts, you should stand in front of the mirror and look for any physical changes in the breast, including any redness, dimpling, or puckering of the skin.
The same should be noted for nipples, alongside any crusting or changing of direction that hadn't been noticed before.
Feel the breast for any lumps, bumps, or changes in size that are abnormal. You should also check your armpits and collarbone.
So, what exactly should you do if you think you find a lump?
The most important thing a woman should do, says Carter, is stay calm.
"Nine out of 10 lumps are normal," says Carter. "If you find anything, go see your GP. Especially if the lump has been there for more than three weeks, even if it’s for your own peace of mind.
"Like all cancers, if breast cancer is caught in time the outcome can be very positive. Early treatment is key.
"But the most important thing is to stay calm. Your body goes through many changes and your breasts can start to look or feel different over time - it isn’t necessarily a sign of breast cancer.”
The majority of the time, a lump will be nothing to worry about at all.
Some of the time, a lump could also be a cyst, Fibroadenoma, or calcification within the breast tissue.
Cysts are not related to breast cancer and can be drained by a specialist when found. Similarly, Fibroadenoma are very common in younger women and although not cancerous, can be become painful or uncomfortable if not removed.
Calcification occurs when small calcium deposits develop on the breast tissue. Most calcifications are benign, but some can be an early indicator of precancerous cells or breast cancer, so it's always best to go see your doctor if you're worried.
Carter says that if a GP notices any changes in the breast, you could be sent for further testing via an ultrasound.
A non-invasive test usually reserved for women under the age of 35, the doctor will place a gel on the skin of the breast and then take a photo using the ultrasound.
Younger women tend to be sent for ultrasounds rather than mammograms, because the breast tissue is more dense in younger women and noticing any changes via an X-ray could be difficult.
Carter adds there are also certain things women can do to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
“Staying healthy and looking after your weight can help," she says. "So can decreasing the amount of alcohol you’re drinking."
"Not drinking at all is best, but drinking less can be beneficial too, say below 11 units a week. Breast feeding can also decrease a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer too.”
(This article was published first in 2019.)