Breast cancer: 10.5m women don’t check for signs of disease

Just 48 per cent of women surveyed checked their breasts at least once a month – and almost one in 10 had never checked at all, according to Breast Cancer Now.

The charity’s head of public health Eluned Hughes warned that about 10.5 million women – 42 per cent of those asked – could be putting their health at risk.

She said: “It is extremely concerning that so many women are not checking their breasts regularly and that many others are not sure what to look for.

“It’s so important that all women are breast aware, as the earlier the disease is detected, the more likely treatment is to be successful.

“Checking your breasts only takes a few minutes. There is no special technique – you can do it whenever suits you – in the shower or waiting for the kettle to boil.”

Of those who did not regularly check for signs of the disease, 41 per cent said it was because they forget – one in five did not feel confident examining themselves.

The survey also found that while most women were able to identify a lump as a possible sign of breast cancer, only 58 per cent could correctly recall three or more common symptoms. 

These include changes to skin texture, colour variations including redness or inflammation, and changes to the size or shape of the breast.

Mirror can help spot changes in breast shape (Image: Lars Zahner / Alamy Stock Phot)

‘A simple new habit might save thousands of lives’

In light of the findings, the charity is re-launching its Touch Look Check campaign.

Ms Hughes said: “Check regularly and report any unusual changes to your doctor. It could save your life.”

Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in the UK. This year alone more than 11,000 women will lose their lives as a result of the disease.

About two-thirds of cases are found by women noticing unusual changes in their breasts and telling their doctor.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “Amid rising incidence, we would urge all women to get to know what their breasts look and feel like normally and talk to their GP about any unusual changes.

“Detecting the disease as early on as possible will ensure the best chances of successful treatment for the 55,000 mothers, sisters and daughters in the UK who are sadly diagnosed each year.

“If we are to reach our ambition that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live, we need to act now and encourage women across the country to forge a simple new habit that might just save their life.”

Armpits should be checked for lumps (Image: Chris Rout / Alamy Stock Photo)

HOW TO SPOT ABNORMAL CHANGES

The NHS advises women to be “breast aware” to help them spot normal changes in their look or feel at different times of the month and differentiate them from changes that need further investigation.

Many women have naturally lumpy breasts but, when investigated, nine out of 10 breast lumps turn out not to be cancerous.

Look at your breasts in a mirror with your arms by your side and also with them raised.

Feel each breast and armpit up to your collarbone. It may be easier to do this in the bath or shower when your hands are soapy.

See your GP if you notice any of the following: a change in size, outline or shape of your breast; puckering or dimpling of the skin; a new lump or bump in a breast or armpit; discharge or bleeding from the nipple; any change in nipple position or it being pulled inside the breast or pointing differently; a rash or moist red area around the nipple which does not heal easily.

CASE STUDY

THANKS to advice about looking out for breast abnormalities, Mandee Castle took the action that helped her survive cancer.

Mandee, now 50, first noticed a “dip” on her left breast in 2012.

After raising the problem with her doctor, she was referred to a breast clinic and diagnosed with five tumours.

The married mother of one, who lives in Deal, Kent, said: “When I first noticed a dip in my breast, I wasn’t too concerned.

Mandee Castle…’It is important to check regularly’ (Image: BREAST CANCER NOW UK)

“I thought it was just something to do with the fact that I had breastfed for 10 months.

“But I had seen something about breast checking on TV that said breast cancer wasn’t always a lump, so I decided to get it checked out.

“When I found out it was breast cancer, I was completely numb.

“Telling my family was so difficult, because I just didn’t have answers to their questions.”

Shop worker Mandee underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy following her diagnosis.

In 2014, she had a second mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

Mandee has now been given the all clear, but she continues to check herself regularly and urged other women to get to know their bodies.

“I’m so glad I got checked out by my doctor,” she said.

“Catching my cancer early meant it was more likely I would be successfully treated, which thankfully I was.

“It’s so important to check regularly.

“If you find something earlier, it makes everything so much easier in the long term.”

COMMENT 

By Baroness Morgan, Chielf Executive at Breast Cancer Now

WITH an estimated 10.5 million women still not checking their breasts regularly, there is clearly still so much more to be done to ensure more women across the UK are breast aware.

Breast cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK, with one in eight women developing the disease.

This year alone, around 55,000 mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers in the UK will tell their loved ones: “I have breast cancer.”

Baroness Morgan (Image: BREAST CANCER NOW UK)

Breast cancer risk increases with age. With the ageing population, combined with growing obesity levels, among other lifestyle factors, we are seeing incidence rising year upon year.

Although more common in older women, the disease can still occur at any age.

That’s why it is so important that all women get to know what their breasts look and feel like normally, so that they can easily spot any unusual changes.

Breast cancer isn’t always a lump – it can be a change in texture, colour or size too, and it’s always worth getting anything unusual checked.

Survival Early detection is critical to the successful treatment of breast cancer, with those diagnosed at stage one having a 99 per cent chance of surviving for five years, compared to 15 per cent for those with stage four.

We need to stop breast cancer taking around 11,500 lives each year and reverse the projected trend that this figure will begin rising by 2022.

To do this we must ensure the disease is spotted early, providing the best possible chances of survival.

But there is unfortunately still an unacceptable postcode lottery in the early detection of breast cancer in the UK.

To tackle this and ensure the very best outcomes for all women, no matter where they live, not only do we need to deliver an effective screening programme, we also need more women to be breast aware.

With such vast numbers of women simply forgetting to check, and so many others not knowing what to look for, it is vital we act now.

Encourage women to make regular checking part of their routine. By sparing just a few minutes each month, women could give themselves a few more years in the future.

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