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Breast awareness/breast screening

The NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme offers breast screening (mammography) every 3 years to women in the UK aged 50–71 years for the detection of breast cancer. Women in their mid-20s and onward are encouraged to be ‘breast aware’; women should get to know how their breasts normally look and feel, so that they can spot any changes that could be signs of breast cancer. They should:

  • Know what is normal for that individual
  • Know what changes to look for
  • Report any changes without delay
  • Attend for screening if aged 50 or over

 What to look for

  • Change in breast outline or shape
  • Any lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in one breast or armpit
  • Puckering or dimpling of skin (orange-peel skin)
  • New discharge from one or both nipples that is not milky
  • Nipple changes: rash, non-healing areas, change in nipple position
  • Symptoms in women with a history, or family history, of breast cancer


Breast cancer

The most common cancer in the UK (15% of all newly diagnosed cancers): 1 in 8 women in the UK develop cancer in their lifetime. The main treatments for breast cancer include:

  • Surgery  (local wide excision [lumpectomy], mastectomy, lymph node removal)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Hormonal/endocrine therapy
  • Target cancer drugs  

Targeted cancer drugs +/- chemotherapy may be offered before surgery for women who have HER2-positive cancer cells and locally advanced or inflammatory breast cancer, or breast cancer with a high risk of recurrence. 

Patients should see a breast cancer nurse specialist, but may appreciate additional support with treatment side-effects and advice on post-mastectomy rehabilitation, e.g. breast prostheses, breast reconstruction.


Practice Nurse featured articles 

Primary breast cancer: what do practice nurses need to know? Tessa Watts

Secondary breast cancer: the role of primary care nurses. Tessa Watts

Practice Nurse Curriculum Module 

Breast health and disease 

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