This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with the recent passing of Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding providing a stark reminder of how important it is for women to check themselves and not delay in consulting a GP if they have any concerns.
The singer, who tragically lost her battle against breast cancer last month at the age of 39, spoke in the months before her death to urge people to check their breasts for warning signs of cancer having admitted that she waited too long to see a doctor about her symptoms. In March of this year, she wrote:
“Please girls – please everyone – don’t let anything get in your way – get checked out if you’re worried about something.
“Of course, I can’t know for sure, but I believe that if I’d got things moving with appointments and check-ups faster than I did, I’d probably be in a better place than I am now.
“I think I would have had more options for treatment, and certainly less spread of disease. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the best I can hope for is that my experience might encourage other people to get themselves sorted as soon as possible.”
Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is actively spotlighting Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which takes place every October to increase knowledge with a view to promoting earlier detection of the disease and more lives saved.
The campaign also tackles the stigma of breast cancer through education on symptoms and treatment, and raises money towards finding a reliable, permanent cure. A pink ribbon is a symbol of breast cancer awareness, and it is often worn during the month to honour those who have been diagnosed with the condition.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 15% of all new cases, and about one in eight women are diagnosed with it during their lifetime. Whilst the disease predominately affects women, men can be diagnosed too. Approximately 400 men in Britain are diagnosed with the illness each year.
Despite increased use of screening, most signs of breast cancer are picked up via self checking. This is why it’s so important to get into the habit of checking your chest regularly and from an early age.
Like all cancers, the key to successful treatment and full recovery is an early diagnosis. The condition has a 78% survival rate at 10 years, with survival rates higher for those who are diagnosed earlier and lower for those who are not diagnosed until a later stage.
CHECKING FOR BREAST CANCER: AN INTRODUCTORY GUIDE FOR WOMEN
How Do I Check My Breasts For Abnormalities?
Everyone’s breasts are different, and can change with age and at different times of the month. Nobody knows your body better than you, so it’s important to get to know how your breasts normally look and feel so it will be easier to spot if there are any unusual changes.
Most breast changes won’t be cancer but it’s important to report anything different or new to your doctor as soon as possible and get it checked out. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment may be.
There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts, it’s as simple as TLC; Touch, Look, Check. It could be when you get dressed, or when you’re bathing, showering or putting on moisturiser – just as long as you do it regularly and remember to check the whole breast and the surrounding area, including the upper chest and armpits.
What Are The Main Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?
Most cases of breast cancer are found by women noticing unusual changes, taking the initiative and visiting their doctor. A common sign of breast cancer is a lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit. You might feel the lump, but not see it. Remember most lumps in the breast are not cancerous, but it’s always important to get it checked out.
Other signs and symptoms include changes in the size of shape of the breast, a change in skin texture (for example puckering or dimpling of the skin), a change in the colour of the breast (it may look red or inflamed), changes to the nipple (including a rash or crusting) or any unusual discharge from either nipple. Changes in the size or shape of the breast and persistent pain in the breast or armpit can also be warning signs.
Secondary breast cancer, which is when the cancer cells spread from the breast to other parts of the body, often has many additional symptoms. These include feeling sick most of the time, severe or ongoing headaches, a dry cough or feeling of breathlessness, discomfort or swelling under the ribs or across the upper abdomen, loss of balance, weakness or numbness in limbs and unexpected weight loss.
What Should I Do If I Suspect Any Of The Above Signs?
Make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible if you have any concerns in relation to the above signs or symptoms. Remember, the sooner you get checked out the better things will be, either in terms of putting your mind at rest or getting the right treatment.
Your GP will look at and examine your breasts at the appointment. If they’re not sure what’s causing the lump or symptoms, they will refer you to a hospital or breast clinic for further tests.
In most cases, tests show the lumps or symptoms are not caused by breast cancer. Lumps in the breasts can have lots of different causes. Most are due to something harmless, suc18h as a non-cancerous tissue growth (fibroadenoma) or a build-up of fluid (breast cyst).
But sometimes they can be a sign of something serious, such as breast cancer. So it’s important that you don’t try to self-diagnose the cause of a lump and to see a GP.
Can I Or Should I Go For Breast Cancer Screening?
Around two million women are screened for breast cancer each year in the UK. NHS’s Breast Screening Programme is currently for women aged between 50 and 70, and involves screening every three years. This is because older women have a higher chance of getting breast cancer, particularly after the menopause (although it can also affect younger women too).
Due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the option for women aged over 70 years-old to self-refer for breast screening has been paused. NHS Scotland has stated that this is only temporary and so it can prioritise those who had their appointments delayed.
Breast screening involves women receiving a mammogram, which is an image of the breasts obtained by mammography. This is used for the early detection of breast cancer and involves an x-ray of the breasts.
Women eligible for breast screening should automatically receive an invitation for a mammography from NHS Lanarkshire. If you haven’t received a first invitation by your 53rd birthday, contact your GP practice to request one.
A wide variety of charitable organisations are involved in breast cancer awareness and support in Scotland. These organisations do everything from providing practical support and educating the public to dispensing millions of pounds for research and treatment.
The largest and most prominent of these are Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel!, both national charities which provides information about the disease and what can be done to support the fight against breast cancer. Advice and information is available through contacting Breast Cancer Now’s free helpline on 0808 800 6000 or by visiting www.breastcancernow.org.
Meanwhile, Cancer Research UK will be hosting its next free monthly drop-in Cancer Awareness Roadshow in Cumbernauld town centre on Wednesday 10 November 2021 from 10.00am to 4.00pm at Antonine Shopping Centre (Tryst Road, Cumbernauld, G67 1JW).
This provides Cumbernauld citizens with an opportunity to chat with and ask questions informally of a specialist cancer nurse, have their Body Mass Index (BMI) measured and pick up some free health information resources.