Knowing what is normal and when to seek medical help

Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes and often change at different stages of our lives. Knowing what is normal and when to seek medical help is really important to taking care of your health and treating issues quickly.

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Each year, about 55 000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK; it is more common in women who are age 50 and over however it can happen at any age as soon as in your early 20’s.

So if you have noticed:

Any new lump in the breast or armpit, dimpling of the skin, redness and flaking of skin of the breast or nipple, ‘orange-peel’ appearance to skin of breast, nipple discharge, thickening or swelling of the breast or anything THAT YOU FEEL WORRIED ABOUT get this checked by a health-care professional.


Please refer to this guide and reminder on how to check your breasts for lumps and other changes.

Breast Pain

Pain in the breast(s) is very common and can be caused by a number of different factors.

Cyclical breast pain

It’s normal for your breasts to be painful around the time of your period. This is due to changes in hormone levels. The pain usually subsides once your period starts, however if you experience pain that is not related to your period, or pain persists past your period, right up to your next period, then we advise that you seek advice from a health professional.

Large breasts

Large breasts can stretch the supporting structures of the breast and can cause pain.


Mastitis is inflammation of the breast and commonly affects women who are breastfeeding. It’s more common in the first 3 months of breast-feeding, causing them to feel tender, warm and firm.


This can often affect women who are breast-feeding. There may be shooting or stabbing pain in the breast(s) which becomes worse when baby latches on, burning or sensitivity of the skin over the nipple, cracked nipples, skin of nipple area may look shiny or bright pink/red particularly after a feed.

Non-breast related problems

Problems affecting other parts of the body can present with pain in the breasts, for example: inflammation affecting the ribs (costochondritis), trauma to the chest wall, muscular pain, reflux and even problems with the heart.


Oral contraceptive pill, steroids, hormone replacement therapy can all make the breasts more sensitive.


This a local collection of infection. Abscesses can cause you to have tender swelling in the breast that feels warm to the tough, and you may feel unwell or have a fever. Urgent same day assessment by a health professional is advised.

If you have been prescribed antibiotics and there has been no improvement after 3 days, speak to a health professional.


If you have noticed any of the following symptoms, get this checked by a health professional as soon as possible:

  • Any new lump in the breast or armpit
  • Dimpling of the skin
  • Redness and flaking of skin of the breast or nipple
  • ‘Orange-peel’ appearance to skin of breast
  • Nipple discharge
  • Thickening or swelling of the breast

Breast Lumps

There are many causes for lumps in the breasts that are not cancerous

Fibrocystic disease

This is a condition where breasts feel ‘lumpy’. It is normal breast tissue and not harmful and NOT cancerous. It’s not clear what causes lumpy breasts but specialists suspect it may be related to changes in levels of hormones during the menstrual cycle. It can be bothersome as some women experience discomfort.


These are NON-cancerous lumps that usually develop during puberty but can occur at any age. They can be felt under the skin and move about a lot (hence the term ‘breast mice’).

Cysts/inflammatory cysts

These are fluid-filled sacs within the breast. They are usually NOT cancerous. For some women they can be uncomfortable, and even painful.


If you have noticed: any new lump in the breast or armpit, or swelling of the breast, please get this checked by a health-care professional.

Nipple Discharge

It is normal to experience nipple discharge during pregnancy and even up to a year after delivery. Some women experience discharge now and again which can also be normal for them but it’s good to get it checked out. Discharge can be white, clear, straw-coloured, grey, yellow, or brown.

Duct Ectasia

This condition causes the tubes (ducts) that carry milk to become blocked, allowing fluid to build up. It is more common in women who are approaching the menopause but can occur at any age.


Certain drugs can cause nipple discharge. These include anti-sickness drugs such as metoclopramide, domperidone, combined hormonal contraception, blood pressure medication such as methyl-dopa, drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders, and heart medication such as verapamil.


If you have noticed new nipple discharge and you are not pregnant, get this checked by a health-care professional.

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