Breast Health: What African Women Need to Know


By Adeola Alabi. DLHA Volunteer and Freelance Health Writer. With medical review and editorial support from the DLHA Team.

Breast health

Breast Health




  • The performance of regular breast health practices is the foundation for maintaining healthy breasts.
  • Good beast health practices include, regular self and clinical breast examination to detect any structural and functional abnormalities early.
  • Undergoing an X-ray based  assessment (mammogram) under standard guidelines provides additional and important check of your breast health.
  • Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider as early as you notice anything unusual about your breasts; as early intervention produces the best outcome.






A young African woman once asked me why she should be concerned about breast health despite no history of breast cancer in her family. I smiled and explained in detail.


Breast health is of utmost importance and requires regular practices to maintain healthy breasts.


These practices include breast self-exams, clinical breast exams by healthcare professionals, mammograms, and healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking. 

Black woman performing breast self examination

Black woman performing breast self examination


It's important to always keep an eye out for any changes in your breasts, including lumps, pain, or changes in size or shape. If you have any concerns, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider immediately. Regular breast health practices are essential for early detection of breast cancer and other breast-related issues.



What To Know About Breast Development


The journey of breast development is a remarkable and complex process that happens in every woman's life during puberty.


 It is a process of growth and maturation, driven by hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Starting with the formation of breast buds, it progresses through several stages, eventually leading to the development of mature breast tissue. 


Along the way, the breasts may experience various changes that are a natural part of the process. While it is important to keep an eye out for any abnormal changes, understanding the journey of breast development can help every woman appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of her body. 



What To Know About Breast Anatomy


Breast anatomy is complex, involving multiple structures that determine size, shape, and function.


Breast Structure

  • Glandular Tissue: Glandular tissue is the main component of the breast and is responsible for milk production. It is made up of lobules, which are milk-producing glands, and ducts, which are tubes that carry milk to the nipple.
  • Fibrous Tissue: Fibrous tissue provides structural support to the breast. It consists of ligaments called Cooper's ligaments, which help maintain the shape and position of the breast tissue.
  • Adipose Tissue: Adipose tissue, or fat, cushions and surrounds the glandular and fibrous tissue. The size and shape of the breast are determined by the amount of adipose tissue present.
  • Nipple and Areola: The nipple is the raised area at the center of the breast, through which milk is expelled during breastfeeding. The areola surrounds the nipple and is usually darker in colour. It contains small glands that secrete lubricating fluid during breastfeeding.



What To Know About Breast Shape and Size


Breast size and shape can vary significantly among individuals and can be influenced by genetics, hormones, age, and lifestyle factors. Some common descriptors include:

  • Round: Round breasts are equally full on the top and bottom, with a gentle curve.
  • Teardrop or Pear-Shaped: Teardrop-shaped breasts are fuller at the bottom and taper towards the top, resembling a teardrop or pear.
  • Asymmetric: Asymmetric breasts have uneven size or shape, with one breast being larger or differently shaped than the other.
  • Bell-shaped: Bell-shaped breasts are fuller at the bottom and taper towards the top, resembling the shape of a bell.


What Influences Breast Size?


Breast size is influenced by glandular and adipose tissue, genetics, hormones, pregnancy, and weight changes.


It is important to note that the size and shape of breasts can change over time due to various factors such as hormonal fluctuations during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, weight changes, and ageing. 


Regular breast self-examinations and clinical breast exams are important to monitor any changes in the breast and detect any abnormalities early.


Breast self-examination (BSE) is a simple yet important technique that you can perform regularly to detect any changes or abnormalities in your breast tissue.

Regular self breast examination is the foundation of breast health

Regular self breast examination is the foundation of breast health


It is a proactive approach to breast health that enables you to become familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts, making it easier to detect any deviations that may signal a potential issue, such as breast cancer.



How To Perform Breast Self Examination (BSE)

How to perform a breast self examination

How to perform a breast self examination


  • Perform Breast Self Examination at the same time each month, preferably a few days after your menstrual period ends. If you no longer menstruate, choose a specific day each month to perform the examination.
  • Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Look at your breasts for any changes in size, shape, or contour. Look for any dimpling, puckering, or redness of the skin. Also, observe the nipples for any changes in direction or discharge.
  • Raise your arms overhead and look for the same changes in size, shape, or contour in both breasts during the examination.
  • Use the pads of your fingers to feel your breast tissue while standing. Use a circular motion and cover the entire breast area, moving from the outer edges toward the nipple. Pay attention to any lumps, thickening, or areas of tenderness.
  • Lie down on your back with a pillow under one shoulder and your arm behind your head. Use the same circular motion with your fingers to feel the breast tissue of the raised arm. This position helps to spread out the breast tissue, making it easier to detect any abnormalities.
  • Gently squeeze the nipple and check for any discharge. Also, feel the areola (the darker area surrounding the nipple) for any lumps or changes in texture.
  • Repeat all the steps on the other breast and note any changes.


If you notice any changes, such as a new lump, thickening, dimpling, or discharge, consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.


Rest assured that not all changes are indicative of breast cancer, but it's important to have any abnormalities assessed promptly.


Performing regular breast self-examinations can help you become more familiar with your breast and detect any changes early.


However, it's essential to remember that BSE should complement, not replace, regular clinical breast exams by healthcare professionals and mammograms as recommended by your healthcare provider based on your age, family history, and other risk factors.


Watch the video below to learn more about Breast Self Examination

Video: How to perform a breast self examination

Video: How to perform a breast self examination. Click on the image to view.


What To Know About Mammograms


A mammogram is an X-ray picture used to detect breast tissue abnormalities, including early signs of cancer, before they cause noticeable symptoms. They play a crucial role in breast health.


Mammograms are an important tool in the management of breast health. They serve various purposes, such as detecting breast cancer at an early stage, screening women without any symptoms, evaluating symptoms or abnormalities, and monitoring breast health.


Early detection is crucial in increasing the chances of successful treatment and improving outcomes. Screening mammograms are typically recommended for women starting at age 40 or 50, depending on various factors such as family history, personal risk factors, and guidelines from healthcare professional organizations.


Mammograms can also be used for diagnostic purposes, providing more detailed images when there are symptoms or abnormalities detected during a clinical breast exam or self-examination. This helps healthcare providers evaluate any suspicious areas more closely.


Regular mammograms are recommended for women who have a history of breast cancer or other breast-related issues. They help monitor any changes in breast tissue over time and detect any recurrence of cancer or new abnormalities.


Three-dimensional (3D) mammography, also known as tomosynthesis, is an advanced imaging technique that provides clearer and more detailed images of breast tissue, especially in dense breasts. It helps reduce false-positive results and improves the accuracy of detecting breast cancer.


Mammograms raise awareness about the importance of breast health and early detection of breast cancer. They encourage women to prioritize regular breast screenings and take proactive steps to maintain their breast health. 




Types of Breast Diseases


Breast diseases include both benign and malignant conditions that affect the breast tissue. 


Some common breast diseases include:

  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Fibroadenoma 
  • Mastitis
  • Breast abscess 
  • Breast cysts 
  • Duct ectasia of the breast
  • Grossly uneven breast size
  • Adenosis
  • Fat Necrosis
  • Mastitis
  • Breast hematoma
  • Hyperplasia
  • Nipple Discharge


Early detection and regular breast screenings are crucial for the successful treatment of all of the above-mentioned diseases.


When To Seek Medical Attention


It’s important to consult your healthcare provider for any breast health concerns when you notice any changes or abnormalities in your breasts, regardless of your age or risk factors. Here are some specific situations when you should seek medical attention:


New Breast Lump or Mass: If you find a new lump or mass in your breast or armpit (axilla), it's crucial to have it checked by a healthcare professional. Although many breast lumps are benign, it's important to rule out the possibility of breast cancer through clinical examination and imaging tests.


Changes in Breast Size or Shape: Major changes in breast size, shape, contour, or symmetry should be evaluated by a doctor. This includes dimpling, puckering, or indentation of the breast skin, as well as changes in the appearance of the nipple or areola.


Breast Pain or Discomfort: Persistent or severe breast pain, tenderness, or discomfort not related to menstruation or does not resolve with the menstrual cycle should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. While breast pain is often benign, it can sometimes indicate a serious underlying issue that requires medical attention.


Skin Changes: Any unusual changes in the skin of the breast, such as redness, warmth, swelling, rash, or thickening, should be examined by a doctor. These changes could be signs of infection, inflammation, or, in some cases, breast cancer.


Nipple Changes: Changes in the appearance or texture of the nipple, such as inversion, flattening, scaling, crusting, or discharge (especially if bloody or spontaneous), should be investigated by a healthcare professional.


Family History of Breast Cancer: If you have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors for the disease, you may benefit from discussing your concerns with a doctor and considering appropriate screening measures, such as genetic testing or earlier mammography.


Previous Breast Health Issues: If you have a history of breast disease, such as fibrocystic changes, fibroadenomas, or previous breast cancer, it's important to follow up with your healthcare provider for regular monitoring and surveillance.





In conclusion, breast health encompasses a comprehensive approach to maintaining the well-being of the breasts, including regular self-examinations, clinical evaluations, and screenings such as mammograms. 


Overall, prioritizing breast health through awareness, screenings, and healthy lifestyle choices contributes to the well-being of individuals and communities. By fostering a culture of proactive breast health management and lactation support, you will be empowered to take control of your health and promote better outcomes for breast-related conditions.



USCF Health. Basic facts about breast health. [Internet, n.d.] accessed March 22, 2023. Available from:




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Published: April 10, 2024

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