Finding cancer early

Finding breast cancer early provides the best chance of surviving the disease.

While mammographic screening is effective in older women, there is no evidence to support the use of mammographic screening in women under 40. For young women, there is a higher chance of a false positive result (whereby a mammogram appears to suggest a breast cancer where none is present) or a false negative result (whereby a breast cancer that is present is not visible on the mammogram).  This is largely due to the dense nature of breast tissue in younger women.  

The method of early detection of breast cancer for young women is through breast awareness. Most breast cancers in younger women are diagnosed as a result of investigation of a lump or other breast symptom. These symptoms are most often found by the woman herself during normal routine activities such as showering and dressing, or by her partner.

Breast changes to look out for include:

  • a new lump, or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
  • a change in the shape or size of your breast
  • a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion
  • a nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
  • a change in the skin over your breast such as redness or dimpling
  • or an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.

All women, regardless of age, should be aware of how their breasts look and feel.  Most changes aren’t due to breast cancer, but it’s important for women to see their doctor if they notice anything new or unusual for them.  If the change is due to breast cancer, the earlier cancer is found and treated, the better the chances of survival.  

The most common symptom of breast cancer in men is a painless lump in the breast close to the nipple.