Becoming Breast Aware

What you should look for when performing this lifesaving monthly ritual.

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No body part worries women more then her breasts: Are they sexually appealing? Will they be adequate to nourish my baby? Is that a lump? Throughout a woman's life, the breast goes through more changes than a teenager dressing for a date. The question on the top of your mind is, "Is that normal?" But the better question might be, "Is that normal for you?"

Becoming acquainted with the topography of your breast can help you and your health practitioner plot a course of action if necessary.


Underneath the skin and nipple there is fibrous, glandular and fatty tissue, lobes and a network of milk ducts that give the breast its size, shape and density. Changes in the breast can be temporary, benign (non-cancerous) or cancerous.

Here is what you should be paying attention to:

  • Size and Symmetry - Breasts come in all shapes and sizes; from AA to DD and beyond. As weight is lost or gained, particularly during pregnancy, the breast will vary in size. Normal breasts can be unequal in size and shape. What you are looking for is an unusual increase in the size of one breast and if one is more pendulous than the other.
  • Nipples - When examining the nipple you are looking for changes in appearance, direction (pushed inward) and if there is any discharge other than breast milk. You are also looking for skin peeling around the nipple.
  • Skin - Here you want to see if there is any dimpling, puckering, ridges, redness, rash and/or scaling on the skin, areola or nipple. Note any prominent vein patterns.
  • Nodularity - This is the part that gets tricky. Monthly hormonal changes during menstruation can cause the tissue to become tender and nodular. What you are looking for is a new lump or thickened area, which may or may not be painful or tender. You want to note the shape (round, oval or irregular), margins (defined or irregular), texture (rubbery, soft, firm, hard) and if it is movable or fixed.