You and your boobs go way back. You probably know them so well by now that you could pick them out of a lineup if you had to. That’s because boobs are a little like snowflakes—each with their own unique shape, texture, and characteristics. Even in the same set, one boob may be a little bigger or perkier than the other.
If you have asymmetrical breasts, you’re not alone—this is incredibly common, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. “It is actually more common for women to have different breast shape and size than absolutely symmetrical breasts,” Nazanin Khakpour, M.D., F.A.C.S., a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. “They are sisters, not twins.”
The differences can range from being really subtle to being really…not subtle, Therese B. Bevers, M.D., professor of clinical cancer prevention and the medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells SELF. “Some women have a one or two cup size difference between their breasts,” she says.
A lot of it has to do with genetics, but losing or gaining weight can play a role, too.
If you’ve always had breasts that aren’t perfectly identical, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you—it’s simply the way they are, Sherry Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. Your ears, eyes, feet, and labia aren’t carbon copies, she points out, so why should your boobs be identical? A lot of this is dictated by your genes, she says, and if your mom and grandmother have mismatched boobs, the odds are pretty high that you do, too.
Your boobs are also partially made up of fat (along with connective tissue and milk ducts), and their size can be influenced by weight changes. When you gain and lose weight, it doesn’t always happen uniformly all over your body—and the same is true with your boobs, Dr. Bevers says. As a result, “it’s definitely possible to gain or lose weight asymmetrically in the breasts,” she says.
Sometimes an underlying medical or skeletal condition like scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, or deformities in a woman’s chest wall, can create the appearance of asymmetrical breasts, Dr. Wider says. But these are less common causes than genetics and weight changes.
While asymmetrical breasts are completely normal, you should pay attention if this is a new thing for you.
If you develop new asymmetry like a sudden increase or decrease in the volume of a breast, you should take note, Dr. Khakpour says. That’s especially true if that change comes with other symptoms like skin retraction, or thickening, dimpling, or a change in color of your breast, she says. “That should be brought to the attention of a physician immediately as these may be the first presentation of certain types of tumors,” she says.
That said, don’t panic and automatically assume it’s cancer. “It’s most likely weight gain or loss,” Dr. Bevers says. She regularly sees patients who complain that their bra is fitting tightly over one breast but not the other and, after a workup comes back clear, she discovers that they recently gained or lost some weight.
Still, if one boob suddenly seems a little…off, check in with your doctor, says Dr. Bevers. “There’s a very good possibility that it’s benign, but any new symptoms warrant medical attention.”
- Here’s How to Actually Do a Breast Self-Exam Properly
- The Truth About Bras and Breast Cancer
- Why Women With Dense Breasts May Need More Than Just a Mammogram
You May Also Like: 16 Women Walked Topless And In Lingerie In A Very Powerful NYFW Show
- Breast care and self-examination
- Solutions for Uneven Breasts
- 31 Important Facts About Breasts
- My left breast is significantly (at least one size) larger than my right breast. What does this mean?
- How breasts develop during puberty
- 1. What age do breasts fully develop?
- 2. How do breasts start to develop?
- 3. Are my breasts normal?
- 4. Can I change the way my breasts develop?
- 5. Further support
- Breast cancer
- What is breast awareness
- Finding breast cancer with screening
- Benefits of finding cancer early
- Help with breast awareness
- If you have breast changes
Breast care and self-examination
This factsheet is designed to help you recognise changes in your breasts, identify if you need to seek advice from your GP and provide some basic information about the NHS Breast Screening Programme.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
The earlier breast cancer is found and treated, the greater the survival. Breast cancers are usually diagnosed as a result of:
- Breast awareness
- Participation in the NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP).
Women present to their GP with breast symptoms or changes, with subsequent referral to their local breast unit for assessment and diagnosis. This involves women being ‘breast aware’ and knowing how their breasts normally look and feel, including different times of the month in those still having menstrual periods. Although many breast symptoms and changes are not due to cancer but benign conditions instead, it is important to get these checked out so don’t delay seeing a GP. Being breast aware and performing breast self-examination does not reduce the risk of dying from cancer but it increases the chance of earlier diagnosis and treatment if symptoms and breast changes are due to an underlying cancer.
A network of ducts spreads from the lobes towards the nipple. The breasts are made up of fat, connective tissue and gland tissue divided into lobes.
The best way to perform breast self-examination is in the shower or bath as it is easier to notice changes if a wet / soapy hand is run over each breast and up into the armpit. If a change that is different from normal is noticed, this should be discussed with a GP or practice nurse. Very few women have completely symmetrical breasts and it is common for one breast to be slightly larger than the other.
Symptoms and changes (signs) in the breast to be aware of include:
- A change in size or shape
- A lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast
- A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)
- Redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
- The nipple has become pulled in or looks different, for example changed its position or shape
- Discharge (liquid) that comes from the nipple without squeezing
- Pain in your breast or your armpit that’s there all or almost all of the time
- A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.
Breast changes during and after pregnancy
Common breast changes include:
- Tingling and soreness of the breasts, especially affecting the nipples.
- Enlargement of the breasts and areola (the darker skin around the nipple)
- Darkening of the skin of the nipple and areolar
- Expression of milk from the nipple is common in pregnancy and can persist after breast-feeding has stopped.
Breast pain is a very common symptom, it can affect one or both breasts and it is unusual for it to be a sign of breast cancer.
- Breast pain in women who are still menstruating arises due to the effect of normal sex hormone changes on breast cells. This type of breast pain is often (but not always) cyclical, that is it becomes more noticeable in the week or two preceding the onset of the menstrual period and improves afterwards. It can vary in nature, sensations of heaviness, tenderness, burning, prickling and stabbing have all been described and usually it improves over time. Over the counter pain killers and topical anti-inflammatories may help as can wearing a support bra at night as well during the day. Evidence dietary changes or use of evening primrose oil have any benefit is lacking. This type of breast pain can be temporary side effect in the first few weeks after starting hormonal contraception or hormone replacement therapy.
- Breast pain unrelated to menstrual periods usually arises from the chest wall (i.e. musculoskeletal) and can also be relieved using over the counter pain killers, topical anti-inflammatories and wearing a support bra at night as well as during the day.
- Breast size and shape varies naturally throughout a woman’s lifetime, so it is worth being measured for a bra at regular intervals. Wearing an incorrectly-fitting bra can be a cause of breast pain in itself. Breast cancer care provide a comprehensive guide to a well-fitting bra.
If pain symptoms persist despite taking measures to help or it is severe enough to interfere with day to day activities, GP review is advised.
Participation in the NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP)
The aim of the NHSBSP is to increase breast cancer survival by diagnosing and treating the condition earlier.
- All women aged between 50 and 70 and registered with a GP are invited for screening by a mammogram, every 3 years.
- Currently there is a trial taking place in some regions of England to see if inviting women from 47 to 73 years for screening is beneficial in reducing breast cancer deaths.
- Women older than 70 can still have screening mammograms every three years but need to contact their local breast screening unit to arrange this.
- In women younger than 50, as the risk of breast cancer is lower and mammograms are more difficult to interpret accurately, they are not routinely invited for screening as part of the NHSBSP. The only exception in younger women applies to the small group with a moderate or strong increased personal risk of breast cancer due to a family history, who are usually recommended annual screening mammograms between the ages of 40 to 50 but only after family history review.
- As cancers can develop between screening mammograms or be missed by a screening mammogram, it is still important to be breast aware and report any new breast symptoms or signs to your GP. Do not wait until the next scheduled mammogram to check these out.
In 2012, an independent UK review of evidence about screening concluded overall, the benefit from participation in the NHSBSP (i.e. reduction in deaths from breast cancer) outweighs the risks (e.g. over-diagnosis and treatment of cancers that would never have caused harm, radiation exposure). This is summarised in the NHSBSP information leaflet, which is sent with the screening invitation letter to eligible women. If you are eligible for have any out-standing questions you should discuss these with your GP.
Solutions for Uneven Breasts
Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t have perfectly even breasts. Believe it or not, every woman has one breast that is larger than the other. Some women have a noticeable size difference of a full cup size or even more. There are many different solutions to comfortably fit both sides of your chest or to disguise the difference.
Embrace Your Shape
To fit both sides without filling out the smaller cup, we recommend a stretch cup bra. You can use the shoulder straps to customize the fit on each side. This solution is great for women whose breasts are less than one cup size different on each side. It is also the most convenient solution for uneven breasts.
Try a Little Camouflage
If you would like to make your bust look more even, don’t try to squeeze the larger breast into a cup that is too small. There are plenty of ways to fill in the smaller size to create a more symmetrical silhouette. The easiest solution is to wear a molded cup bra that is fitted to the larger size. Because this type of bra keeps its shape, this will hide a small difference in cup size. If your size difference is more pronounced, you can use a single breast enhancer in the cup to lift the smaller breast.
A great all-in-one solution for women with a smaller cup size is to buy a padded bra with removable “cookies” or push-up pads. Simply remove the padding from the larger side. Many modern padded bras come with this option.
Many women have uneven breasts after breast surgery. For women who have had lumpectomies, mastectomies, or simply have a very large difference between their cup size, we recommend specialty breast forms. Mastectomy bras have other advantages for post-surgical women, including fabric designed to be comfortable against sensitive skin and full-coverage styles that support without binding.
Need a Personal Solution?
Every woman’s body is different, so sometimes you just need a little personal help to find the perfect bra. For advice based on your size and shape, contact us for help and support.
31 Important Facts About Breasts
Ditch the pink this October and spread breast-cancer awareness with these 31 facts about breasts.
2. In most women, the left breast is usually slightly larger than the right. Very few women have perfectly symmetrical breasts. A slight difference in size — up to 20 percent — between the right and left breast is normal. Sudden changes are not, though, and are reason to talk to your doctor.
3. Breasts normally grow for about two to four years after a girl gets her first period.
4. Breast cancer is the second deadliest cancer for women. Lung cancer is the first.
5. Men can get breast cancer too. There will be an estimated 2,190 new cases of male breast cancer in 2014. Peter Criss of the rock group Kiss is a breast cancer survivor.
6. Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by watching their weight, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding or limiting menopausal hormone replacement therapy.
7. The state with the highest incidence of breast cancer is Massachusetts. According the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 139.5 new cases per 100,000 female residents in the state.
8. The state with the lowest incidence of breast cancer is Arkansas. The CDC reports 101.9 new cases per 100,000 female residents.
9. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has found evidence that night-shift work might be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
10. By the end of 2014, an estimated 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to have been diagnosed in American women. An additional 62,570 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer are expected as well.
11. Breast cancer can happen to anyone. Famous women who have battled breast cancer include: Gloria Steinem, Dawn Upshaw, Betty Ford, Judy Blume, Sheryl Crow, Kylie Monogue, Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Etheridge, Hoda Kotb, Robin Roberts, Joan Lunden, Giuliana Rancic, Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, Carly Fiorina, Brigitte Bardot, Suzanne Somers, Kathy Bates, Ann Jillian, Kate Jackson, and Dihann Carroll.
12. Ancient Egyptians were the first to document the disease, more than 3,500 years ago. Ancient writings on papyrus contain descriptions of conditions that are consistent with modern descriptions of breast cancer. One ancient Egyptian surgeon describes “bulging tumors” in the breast and states that “there is no cure.”
13. For 98 percent of the female population — those without a high risk of breast cancer, based on genetics — the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that annual mammograms be done starting at age 40.
14. The first radical mastectomy was performed in the late 1800s by William S. Halsted, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins and champion of newly discovered anesthetics.
15. Susan G. Komen was a young woman from Peoria, Ill., who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977, at the age of 33. Komen died from the disease three years later. Her younger sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker, believed that Susan’s outcome might have been better if patients knew more about cancer and its treatment. She promised her sister that she would do everything she could to end breast cancer. The result was the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, started in 1982.
16. Early detection is critical. When breast cancer is detected early, survival rates jump. The American Cancer Society advises that you should have a clinical breast exam (done by a doctor) every three years in your thirties. You should have a mammogram each year starting at age 40. More intensive screening is advisable for those at high risk due to family history. Between clinical exams, you should self-examine your breasts every month.
17. In 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act, which ensures that a woman’s health plan that covers mastectomy surgery must cover all stages of reconstruction to both the breast with cancer and the breast without cancer, if desired.
18. One in eight women will eventually be diagnosed with breast cancer.
19. Physicians determine the stage of a cancer at the time of diagnosis in order to create a treatment plan and determine the patient’s prognosis. This is accomplished using radiographic studies (X-rays, ultrasound, MRI, and related tests) and biopsy or removal of the cancer, and often sampling of lymph nodes. The stage is described as a range from pre-cancer (DCIS) to Stage IV (metastatic cancer — that which has spread to other areas of the body). The stage takes into account the size of a tumor, how deeply it has penetrated, whether it has invaded adjacent organs, how many lymph nodes it has metastasized to (if any), and whether it has spread to distant organs.
20. The staging of breast cancer defines the size of the tumor and extent of spread of a cancer. Stage I is a tumor up to 2 cm in diameter with negative lymph nodes. Stage II is a 2 to 5 cm tumor and positive nodes. Stage III is a less than 5 cm tumor, which may have spread to axillary lymph nodes or the chest wall. Stage IV is when the tumor has spread to distant sites.
21. There are several medical terms for breast. Mamm-o as in mammography; mast-o as in mastectomy; maz-o as in “amazon, ” which means “without a breast,” like the Amazon female warriors of Brazil who legendarily cut off their breasts for improved ability to shoot their bows.
22. Both men (1 in 18) and women (1 in 50) can have polythelia — one or more extra nipples (which are often mistakenly identified as moles). Any breast tissue, whether it appears in the standard location or elsewhere along the “milk line,” is vulnerable to the same diseases that affect typical breast tissue.
23. The breastfeeding rate is on the rise in the U.S., increasing by an average of 2 percentage points per year, according to the latest CDC statistics. Breastfeeding is most prevalent in the West, with Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California containing the largest percentage of mothers nursing for the highest number of months; the Southern states Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Virginia with the lowest percentage.
24. There are many different types of breast cancer. Certain drugs that treat one type of cancer do not work with others.
25. Lumpectomy is the removal of part of the breast involved with cancer, along with a margin, or part of surrounding tissue. A series of trials conducted by the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) determined that the long-term outcome was similar in women with similar stages of disease when treated by mastectomy versus lumpectomy and radiation treatment.
26. An estimated 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease. On the flip side, it is estimated that 12 to 15 percent of inherited mutations related to breast cancer can be attributed to BRCA or PALB genes.
27. Survival rates from breast cancer have been steadily improving. According to aggregated data by the National Cancer Institute’s SEER (Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results), the rate of death due to breast cancer has decreased by about 2 percentage points since 1990.
28. Breast augmentation with implants — filled either with silicone or saline — is still the most popular plastic surgery procedure for women. The American Society for Plastic Surgery reported that almost 300,000 augmentations with implants had been done in 2013. However, the number of breasts “lifts,” or mammoplasty procedures (women trying to improve the looks of their breasts without using an implant), is growing at twice the rate of implant procedures.
29. Breasts come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Professionals working in the plastic and reconstructive surgery area have coined some unusual terms for some of the most common breast shapes: Tubular or “tube sock” breasts often result from breastfeeding; flat tires, the “saggy” breasts that look deflated with age or lots of nursing; “Snoopy” breasts, so-called because they resemble the profile of the famous Peanuts comic strip dog.
30. Although there is no such thing as perfection, some of the most famous bustlines have, not surprisingly, come from Hollywood. Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe…and many more since then (which, increasingly, are not real!).
31. Actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie stunned the world last year by announcing in a New York Times op-ed last that she had undergone prophylactic mastectomies to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. Her admission that she was BRCA-positive led to a doubling of the number of women getting tested for this genetic defect in the following 6 months.
Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD, MPH, is a radiation oncologist and founder of BFFL Co (Best Friends for Life), a maker of recovery kits, surgical and recovery bras, and other products for patients undergoing mastectomy and other surgeries or treatments for cancer and other conditions.
My left breast is significantly (at least one size) larger than my right breast. What does this mean?
Humans, in fact most animals, are not bilaterally symmetrical. There is always a small difference from one side to the other.
Of course internally this is easy to detect in that the heart is slightly to the left of centre, the liver on the right side, spleen on the left, etc.
It’s a little less obvious on the outside of our bodies but usually most people will have one eye slightly higher than the other, one arm slightly stronger than the other, one testicle slightly lower than the other, and of course one breast slightly larger and slightly higher on the chest than the other.
Usually this isn’t enough to cause problems but sometimes if the difference is pronounced than a woman might have difficulty finding a bra that fits both breasts equally well.
It’s perhaps interesting to note that this often is associated with which hand is your dominant one. In males it’s easier to see that with most right-handed men the left testicle hangs slightly lower than the right testicle but in left-handed men it’s the opposite – their right ball hangs lower than the left.
Similarly in right-handed women it’s the left breast that’s usually slightly bigger than the right one and vice-versa.
The reason for this is possibly that it has something to do with the dominant side of the brain and that the brain dominance is because of a tiny, tiny bit more growth hormones in utero on one side of the body than the other.
It’s really nothing to be concerned about unless perhaps the difference is so marked that it causes problems either in movement or in finding clothing to fit.
If the difference becomes greater over a short period of time it would be a good idea to get checked out by a doctor to make sure there’s no disease involved but otherwise if the difference is small it’s nothing to be overly concerned.
(Another possible cause could be that if the left breast is bigger than the right that your husband/boyfriend is right-handed. 🙂
How breasts develop during puberty
1. What age do breasts fully develop?
2. How do breast start to develop?
3. Are my breasts normal?
4. Can I change the way my breasts develop?
5. Further support
1. What age do breasts fully develop?
Breasts usually start to develop around the age of 9 to 11, but it’s normal for them to start earlier or later.
If a girl’s breasts start to develop at a younger age, this doesn’t mean she’ll have bigger breasts than someone who starts to develop later. The rate at which breasts grow is different for everyone.
2. How do breasts start to develop?
When breasts start to develop, a small bump called a breast bud grows under the nipple and areola (the darker area of skin around the nipple).
The breasts get bigger and rounder as the fatty tissue and milk-producing glands inside the breasts continue to grow. The areola also gets bigger and darker and the nipples may stick out.
By the age of 17, a girl’s breasts will usually be fully developed, although this may take a bit longer.
You’ll probably notice that you and your friends grow in different ways. One girl’s breasts may start to develop first, but her friend may get her period earlier. Bodies don’t develop in any set order and everyone’s different.
Aching, itching or tender breasts
As the breast buds grow, you may notice tingling, aching or itching in your chest, and your nipples may swell or become tender. This is all normal.
After your periods begin, the changing hormones may make the breasts feel tender, painful or sore a week or so just before your period starts.
3. Are my breasts normal?
It’s common to worry about whether your breasts are normal. But normal breasts come in different sizes and shapes and everyone’s breasts are different. Find out more about normal breasts and nipples.
4. Can I change the way my breasts develop?
There’s nothing you can do to speed up or slow down breast development.
Creams and pills
Adverts for creams and pills often claim that they can make breasts bigger or smaller. Such creams and pills don’t usually make any difference to breast size – even if there’s a slight change in size it’s unlikely to last.
Massaging the breasts won’t affect their size. Massaging too hard might even hurt the breasts or irritate the skin and nipples.
Breasts are mainly made up of fatty tissue rather than muscle, so exercise won’t affect breast development. However, exercise in general will help keep the pectoral muscles behind the breast in shape, as well as help toning the body. It’s important to wear a sports bra that fits you well and supports your breasts during exercise.
Gaining or losing weight
Losing or putting on weight may affect breast size, but doesn’t always.
Sometimes girls put on weight during puberty. This is normal and it’s essential to have some body fat. Because breasts contain fatty tissue, gaining weight may increase the size of the breasts, and losing weight may make the breasts a bit smaller.
Sleeping on your front
Sleeping on your front won’t affect how your breasts develop or make them smaller. If your breasts are feeling sore you might find it more comfortable to sleep on your back or side.
Wearing a bra to sleep in
Whether you sleep with or without a bra is a personal choice, but neither will affect breast development. If you do sleep in a bra, make sure it’s comfortable and not too tight.
Cosmetic breast surgery is the only way to alter breast size – through either a breast enlargement with implants or breast reduction.
Breast enlargement or reduction surgery is available only to people over the age of 18, and may not be funded by the NHS. Surgery has potential risks and side effects – for example scar tissue and infection, reduced sensitivity and not being able to breastfeed.
5. Further support
Changes to your body during puberty can make you feel anxious or like you don’t have control. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talk to your GP or you can call our Helpline and talk to one of our experts on 0808 800 6000.
We’re betting that you and your girls are pretty tight. But if one seems to flaunt a size D while the other is a humbler size C, don’t panic! You’re not the only one.
“The majority of women have asymmetric breasts—some can even be off a cup size,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale Medical School in New Haven, CT. “We don’t know the reason that this occurs. But it is highly unlikely to be anything worrisome-it is just a bit aggravating for women being fitted for bras,” Dr. Minkin says.
Rest assured that your asymmetrical breasts are completely natural. But why is one bigger than the other to begin with? Like many other mysterious things about your body, it depends. (Find out how your breasts change as you age.)
Uneven breasts are often inherited, according to Sherry Ross, MD, a women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. So if your mom and grandmother’s breasts are two different sizes, it’s likely that yours will be, too.
It could also be a matter of weight loss or gain, Dr. Minkin explains. Because your boobs are partially made up of fat (along with connective tissue and milk ducts), their size can change as your weight does. But you don’t always gain or lose weight evenly across your entire body. Same goes for your breasts; one could lose or gain more fat than the other.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding can also impact breast symmetry, Dr. Minkin explains. “Breasts tend to increase in size during pregnancy and breastfeeding and then get smaller after breastfeeding—smaller than they were to begin with in many cases.”
And the baby’s feeding habits can impact a woman’s breast shape as well. “The baby seems to have a distinct preference for one side or the other and that can leave mom with some asymmetry,” she explains. If your breasts have always been symmetric and you develop an asymmetry, then it merits an evaluation and you should get evaluated for a cyst or another abnormality in the larger breast.
What’s more, uneven breasts might be a sign of a condition like scoliosis (a curvature of the spine) or an abnormal chest wall. But don’t worry, genetics and weight change are much more common causes of asymmetry.
You should still pay attention if your breasts suddenly become asymmetrical, especially if there is a mass in one breast that causes the change in size, Dr. Minkin says. “I would counsel a woman to see her healthcare provider for an evaluation and a mammogram and/or ultrasound if necessary—but definitely not to panic.” Watch out for the other signs of breast cancer you might be ignoring.
But again, this shouldn’t be cause for concern. It’s most likely weight gain. All the same, it can’t hurt to get them checked out! And while you’re at it, don’t miss 13 more things your breasts won’t tell you.
Find out about checking your breasts and how to be breast aware.
Know which changes to look for, how to look at and feel your breasts, and when to see your doctor.
What is breast awareness
Being breast aware means getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel. This may change at different times of the month.
If you notice a change that isn’t normal for you, talk it over with your practice nurse or doctor and ask for a referral to the breast clinic.
Being breast aware means that you:
- know what is normal for you
- look at and feel your breasts
- know which changes to look for
- see your doctor about any unusual changes
When to examine your breasts
You don’t need to examine your breasts every day or even every week. But it is important to know how your breasts normally feel, and how that changes with your periods.
Some women have lumpier breasts around the time of a period. If this is the same in both breasts, don’t worry. But check your breasts again the following month, a few days after your period is over.
If the lumpiness comes and goes with your menstrual cycle, it is nothing to worry about.
What to look for
You are checking for changes in the size, shape or feel of your breast. This could mean a lump or thickening anywhere in the breast.
Most people naturally have one breast bigger than the other and this is normal. You need to check for any changes in the size, shape or texture of your breasts. Other changes include puckering or dimpling of the skin or changes in the nipple.
Remember to check all parts of your breast, including your armpits and the area above your breasts up to the collarbone.
Finding breast cancer with screening
The UK national breast screening programme uses breast x-rays (mammograms) to find breast cancer early, before it causes symptoms.
The programme invites women between the ages of 50 and 70 to have a mammogram every 3 years. In England, the screening programme is currently extending the age range from 47 to 73. Women older than this can ask to carry on having screening every 3 years.
Even with the breast screening programme, some breast cancers are first spotted by women themselves. This might be because the woman is too young to have started screening. Or it may be because she stopped having screening when she reached the age of 70. Or it could be that a breast cancer starts to cause symptoms between mammograms, which is known as an interval cancer.
Benefits of finding cancer early
Breast cancers found early need less treatment and are more likely to be cured.
Help with breast awareness
If you are worried that you don’t know how to check your breasts properly, talk it over with your GP or practice nurse.
You can also see staff at your local well woman clinic. Your GP or practice nurse can give you the telephone number.
The staff can tell you about changes you can normally expect in your breasts. They can also tell you about ways of learning how your breasts normally look and feel.
If you have breast changes
If you have any breast changes and are worried that you might have cancer you should go to your GP. Find out about what happens at the GP surgery.
At 16 years old she was diagnosed with a congenital breast deformity.
“At one point my breasts were four sizes apart and it was really noticeable unless I used extra padding or tissue in one side of my bra,” she said.
Her confidence plummeted and after being nicknamed “tissue tits” by cruel bullies at school who spotted she tried to disguise her wonky boobs with tissue, she turned to food.
9 When she was 16, Daniella was diagnosed with a congenital breast deformity, which left meant her boobs varied in size by four cupsCredit: Caters News Agency 9 At 17 she had a temporary breast expander fitted, allowing saline solution to fill a bag under her skin to stretch it and make room for an implant, planned for when she turned 21Credit: Caters News Agency
At 17 years old, she had an operation to fit a temporary breast expander.
The bag inserted under her skin, was filled with saline solution every six months, in the hope it would create the space needed to fit a proper implant when Daniella turned 21.
She recalled: “I felt like I was too young to be going through such a huge operation at 17, but I knew it needed to be done.
9 But she began comfort eating after being taunted by cruel bulliesCredit: Caters News Agency 9 Now, after losing five stone in five months, Daniella is a slinky size 10 and weighs just 10 stoneCredit: Caters News Agency
“It was never permanent and I knew one day I’d need another operation to have the implant.
“I’d spent years stuffing my bras with tissue at school and as soon as someone spotted me I was known as ’tissue tits’.
“No one could understand that I was just trying to look normal and didn’t care about them looking any bigger.”
But after ballooning to a size 18 while at university, doctors said the operation would be too dangerous.
9 Now she’s lost the weight, she’s hoping to have the implant fitted next yearCredit: Caters News Agency
“It wasn’t until I went back to hospital at 21 and was told I was too overweight for the next part of my surgery that I realised I needed to change me ways,” Daniella said.
“I knew I was chubby but I never imagined I’d be too obese for the surgery.
“It was the wake up call I needed, I wasn’t happy with my appearance but I was the only person able to change it.”
‘I SHED FIVE STONE IN JUST FIVE MONTHS’
DETERMINED to shed the weight for surgery, Daniella signed up to the Cambridge Weight Plan.
Breakfast: Coffee with two sugars
Lunch: Pasta meal deal, crisps, samosa, chocolate bar
Dinner: Kebab, or chicken and chips or pizza
Snacks: Crisps, chocolate, diet coke
Breakfast: Cambridge Weight Plan porridge, one pint of water
Lunch: Chicken salad
Dinner: Chicken and grilled veg
Snacks: Cambridge Weight Plan chocolate bar
She joined the Cambridge Weight Plan in May, and has since shed a staggering five stone.
Now a size 10, Daniella said: “I didn’t mind my boobs when I was chubby as being overweight gave them a better shape but now I have just been left with excess skin.
“I knew I needed to get my life back on track and I stopped going out with friends and ditched the fast food, crisps and chocolate for good.
“Your weight is the one thing you can control, so why let it hold you back?”
9 Daniella said being told she was too fat to safely go through surgery was the wake up call she neededCredit: Caters News Agency
Daniella now weighs just over 10st and she’s set to have her surgery next year.
She said: “My breast reconstruction was going to be funded by the NHS as it was the second part to my first surgery at 17, but now I will have to apply for a whole new set of funding.
“The expander in my left breast will be taken out soon as my body is now rejecting it but once I’m all healed from that op, I will start my application.
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“After losing all the weight I’m now one step closer to having the breasts I’d always wanted.
“At the moment they are like empty sacs due to the weight loss and my condition.
“If the funding isn’t granted, I will start saving for private surgery to correct my bust.”
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I’ve heard people say that it’s a common thing for a woman’s left breast to be bigger than her right, but I wasn’t sure if it was true or what the science was behind it. However, when I’d ask my friends about it, they mostly agreed it was also true for them. So why is this the case and what does it mean? Here’s the inside scoop.
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“The majority of women have asymmetrical breasts—some women realize it, but many do not,” says Concord, CA plastic surgeon Eric Mariotti, MD. “One study found that 91 percent of women have some asymmetry, whether it is regarding volume, the height of the nipples, or the chest wall. Most of the time these differences are very subtle, but other times they can be quite obvious. As a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast surgery, it is part of my job to educate women about them either way.”
Dr. Jessica A. Shepherd, director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago says the most common reason for asymmetry is hormonal changes. “Breast asymmetry is typically seen in puberty where there are rapid growth spurts, and it is possible that one breast responds more to surging estrogen levels than the other.” Dr. Mariotti agrees. “One breast may have a different percentage of true breast tissue versus fatty tissue, and may therefore react to hormonal changes differently,” he says. “Genetics also play a big role: If a woman’s mother or grandmother had asymmetrical breasts, the chances are higher that she may have asymmetry as well.”
In addition to hormonal changes during puberty, the body’s physical development can also affect the appearance of the breasts. “Any bit of scoliosis in the spine can not only make the breasts appear uneven, but if the scoliosis appears during puberty, the development of the breasts can also be different,” says Pasadena, CA plastic surgeon Lily Lee, MD. “Similarly, the shape of a person’s rib cage might not be the same from right to left. Even if a person’s breasts are exactly the same size and shape, if the foundation that they sit on (rib cage) is uneven, the breasts will appear uneven.” Houston plastic surgeon Henry Mentz, MD says a woman’s athleticism can influence the share of her rib cage as well. For those who are very athletic, “the left rib cage may be slightly higher than the right because the heart and surrounding muscles have lifted the rib cage slightly. Many people have this condition,” he says. “Some patients who are right-handed or left-handed may also have a difference in the fullness of their muscle on the corresponding side, especially if they play sports where they predominantly use one hand, such as tennis.”
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Grand Rapids, MI, plastic surgeon Bradley Bengtson, MD sums it up plain and simple: “One of my favorite professors used to tell me, ‘Breasts are sisters, not twins,’ and I tell my patients that too.”
There haven’t been many legit studies on breast size, but Dr. Shepherd finds a couple especially interesting: “One study in particular was done with 100 women who desired breast augmentation, and of those women, 88 percent had natural asymmetries. Also seen in a study published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery, 600 women were evaluated, and it was found that the left breast was larger.”
So, if your left breast is larger than your right, no need to fret. It appears to be one of those unexplainable anatomical mysteries that affects many women of all different shapes and sizes for no good reason. But, if your asymmetry is significant and it bothers you, there are several ways it can be corrected.
“For mild asymmetry, we use fat transfer because we can shape the smaller breast and add small increments of volume where we want it,” says Dr. Bengtson. Fat transfer involves removing fat from one area of the body that has excess (typically the abdomen or thighs), cleaning it up and then injecting it into volume-deficient areas. Many doctors prefer using fat over other options because it’s from the patient’s own body, has a natural look and feel, and typically comes with a lower risk of complications.
If the symmetry is more significant, a breast implant can be used to create balance. “Implants are usually 30–40 cc different in volume for the next implant size up or down so we can definitely dial in and make breasts more symmetrical. In addition, we have four different projections of implants, so in patients with rib and chest wall deformities (which is extremely common), we can alter projection of the implant and thus the breast as well,” explains Dr. Bengtson. Adds Dr. Lee, “We now have such a range in sizes and shapes of breast implants that we can get asymmetries closer than ever before.”
Dr. Mariotti adds that because no two cases are identical, “these types of procedures take a surgeon with lots of experience with breast surgery to get right.” It’s important to find a board-certified plastic surgeon who is qualified and can show you before-and-after images of other patients.
A high-tech benefit for patients interested in correcting asymmetries with implants is the Vectra 3-D imaging system. “Vectra takes several 3-D photographs with a special camera and analyzes them in the computer to show differences in size and shape of the breasts and provide guidance in breast augmentation regarding the size, shape and placement of the implants,” Dr. Mentz explains. “It’s very useful and precise, and it’s illuminating for patients to see themselves with accurate measurements and views from above, below and to the side. It also allows them to see themselves with a bathing suit top on or without to see if the implant size suits them.”
A surgical lift can be done without inserting a breast implant in many cases, especially if it’s to correct uneven nipples. “Sometimes one nipple may be lifted more than the other, and when the nipple position is more than 20 millimeters higher than the other side, a breast lift can help even things out,” explains Dr. Mentz. If it’s the nipples themselves that are different sizes, they can be surgically altered to match as well.
Because breast asymmetries are so common, it’s important to be aware of what is a “normal change” in your breast size and what isn’t. Recognizing signs of breast cancer, which will affect one in nine women in their lifetime, is crucial for women. “Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have changes in how your breasts look or feel, such as a lump or firm feeling that is near your breast or under your arm,” says Dr. Shepherd. “Also check for nipple discharge or changes that do not look like milk and are possibly bloody. Another sign could be skin on your breasts that is itchy, red, scaling, dimpled or puckered.”