WHEN was the last time you checked your breasts or pecs? It is often assumed that breast cancer only affects females and that only women need to be checking their breasts, but as it is October – the month dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer – I am here to tell you that everyone – men and women – can get it. Everyone therefore needs to make breast/pec self-examinations a habitual check-in.

Breast cancer remains the commonest cancer in the UK affecting around one in eight women at some point in their life. Whilst many women who are diagnosed with it tend to be over 50, it affects young women too. Everyone is born with breast tissue and that is why we see breast cancer in men as well. Though the occurrence of it in men is far lower, the risk being 1 in a 1000 compared to women, men tend to have higher rates of mortality because they are less likely to examine themselves and therefore would pick it up later when it could be too late.

The exact cause of breast cancer is not fully understood yet – but we do know that there are some factors that are known to increase the chances of developing it. These include a family history, ageing, a personal previous history of having breast cancer, but interestingly, lifestyle factors can also increase risk. Smoking and drinking alcohol have been linked to developing it, as has chronic bad diets and obesity, so there are active measures we can take to reduce our chances as much as possible.

Being of Indian origin, I was surprised to learn recently that breast screening uptake rates are the lowest amongst those from BAME backgrounds, with south Asians leading the way in this – which is worrying. Perhaps this is due to generational attitudes towards health or perhaps it’s because talking openly about certain body parts like the breasts is still deemed to be taboo.

This needs to change if we are

to see cases of breast cancer within these populations reduce.

Another group known to not engage with breast screening as often are those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. We need to collectively champion each other to be more breast aware and encourage one another to take action.

In Scotland, women between the ages of 50 and 70 are offered breast screening every three years. For all other women and men, screening is done at home, and I advise all my patients to make it a habit to have a good look and a feel of their breasts and chest wall, going all the way up into the armpits and collar bones, once a month. I set an alarm for the first of every month and by doing this you get to become familiar with what is normal for you. This way any abnormality can quickly be picked up and managed early.

Any skin changes to the breasts, any dimpling, rashes, lumps or alterations in size or shape of the boobs needs to be taken seriously. Call your GP, don’t ignore it!

Unfortunately, due to Covid, screening was temporarily on hold, but services have resumed again. Remember though, your GP is always open so do not hesitate to call and book an appointment if you’re worried at all.

Prevention is better than cure so be mindful of your lifestyle. Early detection can save lives so get familiar with every bit of your body and champion your loved ones to do the same!