Questions from teens about breasts and breast cancer

Is it normal to have one breast bigger than the other? Why do my breasts feel uncomfortable? Can anything increase my risk of breast cancer?

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions from teenagers about breasts and breast cancer.

My right breast is growing bigger than my left breast. Is this normal?

As your breasts grow and develop, it's not unusual for one breast to grow bigger than the other. This is because your breasts grow independently of each other. For some people the size difference can be subtle and for others it can be more noticeable. Many women have one breast bigger than the other and this is nothing to worry about.

Find out more in Are my breasts normal?

My breasts are really uncomfortable and sometimes I have sharp pains in both of them. Is this normal?

It’s normal for breasts to feel uncomfortable and painful at times. Breast pain can be described as anything ranging from a mild ache to a sharp, stabbing, burning sensation.

For some people breast pain is affected by changing hormone levels: the pain is at its worst just before a period, settling down again afterwards. For others the pain can happen at any time.

There are practical ways and treatments to help settle breast pain, so talk to your doctor if this is a problem for you.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Around 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year (including about 350 men).

Breast cancer is more common in older women: just over 80% of breast cancers occur in women who are over the age of 50.

Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to divide and grow in an abnormal way. There are several types of breast cancer.

What does or doesn't increase my risk of breast cancer?

Newspapers often have stories about different things increasing the risk of getting breast cancer. But when you look at these stories more closely, they are often just trying to grab your attention with a shocking headline. Often the risk itself – if proved at all – is very small.

Although there’s lots of research on breast cancer, we still don't know what causes it. There doesn't seem to be one single cause, but rather a combination of lots of different things. We do know some things that increase the risk of getting breast cancer, but not all of them – and we still don't know why some people get it and some don't.

Below are some of the things that do and don’t increase the risk of breast cancer.

Does increase the risk

These things do increase the risk of breast cancer:

  • being a woman – men can get breast cancer but it’s very rare
  • being older – the older a person is, the higher their risk of breast cancer
  • having a significant family history – a small number of people have a higher risk because of their family history

If you’d like to know more, see our breast cancer and risk information.

May increase the risk slightly

These things may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer:

  • smoking – studies about smoking and breast cancer have produced mixed results but one recent study found that women who smoke from a young age have a higher risk of developing breast cancer after the menopause
  • drinking alcohol – drinking more than the recommended daily limit (two units of alcohol for women and three units for men) increases the risk of developing breast cancer
  • taking the pill – any increase in risk is likely to be small and only applies when you’re taking the pill
  • being overweight – women who are overweight or obese (very overweight), especially after the menopause, may have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.

Doesn’t increase the risk

These things don’t increase the risk of breast cancer:

  • using deodorants or antiperspirants – there's no conclusive evidence that deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer
  • wearing an underwired bra – wearing an underwire bra does not increase your risk of breast cancer
  • injuring your breast – an injury to the breast won’t cause breast cancer
  • having your nipple pierced
  • sunbathing topless – however, too much exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer
  • mobile phones – carrying a mobile phone in your breast pocket doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer.
Last reviewed: July 2015
Next planned review begins July 2018

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