Breast cancer is currently the most common cancer in the UK, making up 15% of all new cancer cases. It is strongly recommended for anyone with breasts, be they cis women, trans men, or gender nonconforming people to check themselves once a month. Getting to know the way your breasts look and feel is the easiest way to ensure good chest health.    

Getting to know your breasts

Though it's possible to start doing self exams right away, its important to get to know how your breasts look and feel.

Every person's breasts are different in terms of size, shape and consistency. Stand in front of a mirror and using your hands get familiar with your breasts. Their appearance and feel could vary at different times of the month and it's normal for some people to have "tender and lumpy breasts, especially near the armpit, around the time of their period" according to the NHS.

After the menopause breasts may feel softer, less firm and not as lumpy.

How to do a self breast exam

1) Begin with a visual examination by standing shirtless in front of a mirror. 

2) Look for any of the following:

  • Puckering or dimpling
  • Rashes or redness
  • Changes in size, shape or symmetry
  • Discharge from the nipples
  • Change in nipple position or nipples that are pushed inwards instead of outwards
  • a rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
  • Visible lumps, swelling, thickening or bumps on the breast. 

3) Next, use your hands to examine your breasts while laying on a flat surface.

4) Use the pads of your fingers, not tips. Be sure to use different pressure levels (soft, medium, deep) and follow a pattern to cover every area of the breast.

5) Using this method check your breasts for:

  • Pain or discomfort in one breast or under the armpit, especially if the pain is new
  • lumps, thickening or swelling, or skin irritation.

If you find any concerning symptoms, it's important to get yourself checked by a clinician. Do not wait for your next scheduled breast screening.

Limits of Self-Examinations

Most lumps found in your breasts are not cancerous, so try not to jump to any conclusions. If you do find any of the symptoms listed above, understand that a self-exam is not enough; additional tests will be needed. You should first contact your GP who may examine your breasts and your lymph nodes under your arms and neck. They will then provide further advice using their assessment: you may need no further tests, they may ask you to continue monitoring yourself, or you may be referred to a specialist.

Who is At Risk?

Queer Women

There is no evidence to suggest queer women are more likely to get breast cancer, however, studies show that queer women receive less regular routine healthcare than other women, including breast cancer screenings. Many factors prevent queer women from receiving the same quality of care as their cis-het counterparts, but negative experiences within the healthcare system and bias among clinicians likely play a role.

Older Population

About 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer in the UK occur in those over the age of 50. All those with breasts who are from ages 50 to 70 should be professionally screened for breast cancer every 3 years, as well as remain breast aware at all times. 

Those with a Family History

If you know of any close relatives that have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are at higher risk for developing breast cancer yourself. Talk to your GP if you are worried you may carry a gene that is associated with breast cancer, as they will be able to run the proper tests to help you. 

Trans Men And Non-Binary People

It is very important that transgender men and non-binary people still perform breast checks and get professional screenings, especially those who have not had top surgery. However, while top surgery is said to lower the risk of breast cancer, it does not totally erase that risk. So, be sure to remain breast aware and look out for symptoms. If you would like more resources about screenings for transgender men, please click here 

Other Symptoms of Breast Cancer

  • A hard lump or knot near your underarm
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain
  • Itching, scales, sores or rashes
  • Bloody nipple fluid

Other Resources

For More Information about Breast Self-Exams, check out the NHS guide.

If you notice any symptoms of breast cancer, see your GP and arrange a professional exam just to be safe. More info.

Be sure to check out the LGBT HERO forums for a judgement-free zone and support system.