Breast cancer survey finds almost half of women do not regularly examine themselves

Campaigners note most cases of breast cancer are found because women have noticed changes to breasts

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 26 October 2020 12:53 GMT
The charity calls for women to examine their breasts for breast cancer at least every six weeks
The charity calls for women to examine their breasts for breast cancer at least every six weeks

Almost half of women living in Britain do not regularly examine their breasts to look for indications of breast cancer, a new study has found.

The report, carried out by Breast Cancer Now, discovered one in 10 women have never checked their breasts for new or out of the ordinary signs.

Campaigners noted most cases of breast cancer are found because women have noticed new changes to their breasts as they urged them to urgently start making checking them the “habit of a lifetime”.

The charity calls for women to examine their breasts for cancer at least every six weeks.  The disease claims around 11,500 women’s lives each year in Britain. 

Some women told researchers they would not go to a doctor if they noticed strange changes to the breast to seek medical advice.

“I feel awkward or embarrassed,” one said. Another added: “I don’t want to bother my GP who is busy enough due to the Covid-19 pandemic". One more said: "I’m too busy.”

There are thought to be roughly 35,000 people who currently have secondary breast cancer in the country. Breast cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in the UK but getting an early diagnosis can stop women dying from the illness.

Probed about why they do not check their breasts, almost half said they simply “forget”, while a fifth are “not confident” about what changes they should be hunting for. 

A fifth of women checked them once every half a year or less, while around one in ten did so once per year or even less frequently, researchers found.

Manveet Basra, head of public health and wellbeing at the charity, said she was left very shocked by the fact one in ten women have never checked their breasts.

She added: “Breast checking is quick, easy, and can help detect any breast cancer early, giving treatment the best chance of working. There’s no special technique – just get to know your breasts and what’s normal for you, so you can spot any new or unusual changes, and remember to check all parts of your breasts, your armpits and up to your collarbone for changes.

“Making this part of your routine – such as in the shower or when you apply moisturiser – can help you to do it regularly. Encourage your female friends and family to do this too; please don’t feel embarrassed talking about this simple step that could save your life.

“Many women may know that a lump can be a possible symptom of breast cancer, but it’s vital to know that there are other signs to be aware of too. This could be nipple discharge, dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast, the breast looking red or inflamed, or swelling in the upper chest or armpit.”

She said while most breast changes are not linked to cancer, it is crucial to have any new or unusual changes checked by the GP “right away”.

Ms Basra added: “I can assure you Covid-19 doesn’t change this - surgeries have safety measures in place to minimise the risk of the spread of Covid-19 and your GP wants you to get any breast changes checked out without delay.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at the charity, noted checking your breasts is something which can “ultimately save” someone’s life.

She added: “While most breast changes won’t be breast cancer, when it is, a woman noticing a potential symptom and getting this checked by the GP are often the first steps that lead to diagnosis. Early diagnosis increases the chances of successful treatment, which can prevent women from dying of the disease, meaning the importance of regular breast checking cannot be underestimated.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown us into unprecedented times, but one thing remains the same – that all women must get any potential symptoms of breast cancer checked by a GP. The NHS is ‘open for business’ and calling on people to come forward with any health concerns, reassuring them they won’t be a burden on the NHS. Anyone can also talk to our expert nurses by calling our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000”.

The Independent recently reported almost 1 million women living in the UK have not been able to attend breast cancer screening appointments as a result of the pandemic.

Breast Cancer Now forecasts around 8,600 of the women ensnared in the backlog could have been living with breast cancer which has gone unidentified – with their diagnosis postponed due to the public health crisis overwhelming NHS resources.

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