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Know Your Breasts

Both women and men have breast tissue and can develop diseases of the breast, including cancer. Being breast aware means being familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel, knowing what changes to check for, and discussing any unusual breast changes with a health care provider.

For women, being breast aware also encourages you to know your breasts and how they change over the course of your monthly menstrual cycle, in pregnancy or breastfeeding, or as you age.

  • There is no right way or proper technique to being breast aware. Find a way or ways that are comfortable for you

  • There is also no time schedule for being breast aware. Do it at a time and in a place that works for you

  • Breast awareness is an important part of proactive and preventive health care

Steps to breast awareness

Look and Feel

If you are familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel and change through time, you are more likely to notice breast changes that seem unusual to you. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts—just find a way that is comfortable for you. 

You can try moving your middle fingers in small circles from the outside of the breast to the nipple. Cover the surface of each breast, and remember to check the areas above and below the breasts, including the armpits.

Each whole breast
pic_bc_each whole breast.jpg
Above and below each breast
pic_bc_above and below each breast.jpg
Under both arms
pic_bc_under both arms.jpg
Men check the same areas
pic_bc_men check too.jpg

Breast Changes to Look For in Women and Men

In women, many breast changes such as tenderness or slight lumpiness, are normal and caused by changing hormoneHormone:
A natural substance released into the body by the endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, adrenal gland or ovaries.
levels during the menstrual cycle. Others can be part of the normal aging process.  It’s important to know that most breast changes will not be breast cancer.

Men have very little breast tissue and do not experience the same complex breast growth and development as women.  Although this can make it easier to detect changes such as small lumps, many men are not aware that they can get breast cancer or the signs and symptoms to look for.

For both women and men, here are some changes to look for as you check your breast health. These signs and symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer, but are important to follow up with your health care provider about.

Nipple changes

What to look for - nipple changes



What to look for - redness


 Nipple discharge 

 What to look for - nipple discharge



What to look for - lumps/thickening

Skin changes

What to look for - skin changes


What to look for - dimpling/puckering

If you notice any breast changes that concern you, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages you to discuss them with a health care provider. Remember that there are many normal breast changes, and others can be caused by benignBenign:
Not cancerous. This is also referred to as non-malignant.
(noncancerous) conditions. Many breast changes are temporary and most will not be a sign of breast cancer. By being aware of these changes and discussing them with a health care provider, you are taking proactive steps to address any potential health concerns early. Detecting breast cancer at an earlier stage can lead to more treatment options, less invasive treatment and a better chance of surviving the disease.


Baxter, Nancy, with the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health. Preventive Health Care, 2001 Update: Should Women be Routinely Taught Breast Self-Examination to Screen for Breast Cancer? Canadian Medical Association Journal 2001; 164 (13): 1837-46.

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2010). Earlier Detection and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: A Report from It’s About Time! A Consensus Conference. Toronto, ON: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Canadian Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Accessed March 12, 2014.