Beyong the lump...what you need to know

Recent New Zealand research conducted by Colmar Brunton on behalf of the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBCF) found that young women – aged 20-39 – are in the dark when it comes to recognising the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, beyond the widely known symptom of a lump.  

“The good news is, most lumps or bumps aren’t breast cancer, in fact most turn out to be benign,” says Dr Belinda Scott, an Auckland-based breast surgeon and Medical Advisor to the NZBCF. 

But many women aren’t aware that breast changes other than a lump can also be a sign of breast cancer.

“Every woman from the age of 20 needs to be alert for any unusual breast changes and get them checked out,” states Dr Scott.  “For women aged 40 and over, screening mammograms remain the best way to detect breast cancer in its early stages, which allows the most effective treatment.”

Unusual breast changes could include any of the following:

  1. A new lump or thickening in the breast or armpit area. 
  2. Any change in the nipple, e.g. a turned in nipple or discharge that occurs without squeezing. 
  3. A change in the skin of the breast, areola or nipple, e.g. colour, dimpling, puckering, or reddening.
  4. A change in breast shape or size or breast pain that is unusual. 

The Colmar Brunton study revealed that around two-thirds of NZ women under 40 don’t realise that breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for their age group.  In fact, one woman a day is diagnosed with breast cancer below the screening age of 45.

Breast cancer can often be more aggressive in younger women, so the earlier a cancer is diagnosed the greater the chance it can be treated successfully.  

“More than 85% of my patients are still alive and kicking five years after diagnosis” says Dr Scott. “These days breast cancer is highly treatable, but your chances are much better if it’s detected early, before it spreads beyond the breast.” 

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation urges all women to be breast aware from age 20, start having regular mammograms from age 40, and to see their doctor if they have any unusual symptoms.


Dr Belinda Scott is an Auckland based Breast Surgeon and Director of Breast Associates Ltd. She's also a long serving member of the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation Medical Advisory Committee.