Breasts change a lot over a woman’s life. Some common reasons for change are: pregnancy; breastfeeding; hormonal changes over each menstrual cycle; and weight loss or gain. Breasts also change their shape and feel as a woman ages.
At some stage in their lives, many women have a change in their breast(s) that is different to their usual hormonal changes. Sometimes these changes need to be checked by a specialist service such as the Women’s Breast Health Clinic.
Women often worry that their breast change is cancer. Although the changes we investigate are often uncomfortable, painful or worrying to women, they are rarely cancer. There are many reasons for unusual breast changes, and most are not dangerous or harmful.
Health issues treated
Breast lumps, breast cancer
What we do
We will assess the changes in your breast through questions about your health and wellbeing, and whether any of your family members have had breast cancer. Some tests might also be necessary to understand what might be causing the breast change.
Information for patients
Who will I see?
You will see specialist doctors and nurses on your first visit. Some of these staff will be male. Please let us know if this concerns you. We cannot always provide female staff, but we can ensure a woman is with you if male staff are conducting the tests.
This clinic is part of a teaching hospital for trainee doctors. Medical students take an active role in patient care, closely supervised by a qualified specialist. This is an important part of their training. Your specialist will probably ask your permission for a student to attend your visit. You have the right to refuse or accept this. Your decision will not affect the care you are given.
What happens at the clinic?
When you first visit the Clinic, we will use a number of steps to learn more about your breast change.
First, the specialist will talk with you about your health and your family’s history. This will include questions about:
- the symptoms or signs of the change in your breast
- any past breast changes or illnesses that you have had
- whether any of your immediate family members have had diseases such as breast or ovarian cancer (we understand that not every woman knows her family’s history).
Next, the specialist will examine your breasts. This involves feeling both breasts, including your armpits. You will need to take off your top and bra for this check.
Often the information gathered in the first two steps is enough to tell us that a woman’s breast change is normal.
Other times we need to do further checks or tests to know what the breast change is. If this is the case for you, we will give you an information sheet about further tests. You will usually need a second appointment for these tests.
The tests and procedures at the Breast Clinic are not dangerous and usually are not painful. You may ask the specialist questions at any time and we will try to make sure that you get your results as quickly as possible.
Your specialist will discuss your situation with you. With your consent, we will also send your information back to your family doctor or GP.
You and your doctor/GP
It’s a good idea to visit your GP after you have been to the Breast Clinic. That way, you can make sure you fully understand any information, tests or diagnosis that the specialist gave you. It’s also a good chance to talk about what you are thinking and feeling about your breast change or diagnosis. Your GP can also help you if you would like a second opinion about your breast change.
If you don’t have a regular GP, ask friends, family or your local community health centre for some suggestions. It’s good to have a GP who you know and trust.
What should I wear?
Wear comfortable clothes that have a separate top and bottom, as you will need to take your top and bra off for a physical examination and any tests.
How long will it take?
Your appointment might take up to two or three hours. We apologise in advance if you have to wait but some people’s appointments will take longer than others, and we cannot estimate how long each will take as the care is tailored for every individual.
Make sure your car parking, public transport, child minding and other arrangements allow for this. It’s also a good idea to bring something to read or do.
What to bring
It might be good to come with someone who can give you support and keep you company.