This week we heard the very sad news of Sarah Harding passing away at the age of 39 from breast cancer. It is never easy accepting any loss but even harder when it’s someone so young. Breast cancer has been in the spotlight this week as a result and rightly so because raising awareness is the number one thing we can do to save lives because the earlier we can detect changes, the better the outcome.

Over the pandemic we have seen a drop in patients seeking help for their health. One of the detrimental fallouts of this pandemic has been mixed messaging whereby people have been led to believe that doctor’s practices have been closed or that burdening the NHS during a pandemic would not be helpful. In doing so, we have seen rising numbers of patients who delayed presenting to their GP with new lumps or unusual symptoms which could potentially be serious.

Every year in the UK around 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer and of this number, sadly around 11,500 women and 85 men die from it annually. With there being multiple treatments available for breast cancer, we need to do better with educating ourselves on what to look out for and empowering people to seek help sooner rather than later.

Very commonly people equate cancer with a lump and whilst this is one of the prominent features of breast cancer, it isn’t the only sign or symptom. And as you read above, breast cancer can affect any gender.

I implore you to set an alarm or mark a date in your calendar once a month to check your breasts or pecs/chest area. This takes a few minutes and is worth every second to simply stand in front of a mirror to have a good look at your chest, looking at the shape of both pecs/breasts, size, any skin changes or dimpling of the skin and the nipple. If you do this regularly you will become familiar with what is normal for you meaning you will pick up any change early. Next you want to have a feel. Many find it easier to examine themselves in the shower whilst others find it easier lying down. As long as you get a thorough feel, that’s all that matters. There really is no right or wrong way either so with the flat of your hands, and in circular motions with some firm pressure, go round each breast in a clockwise direction remembering to feel around and behind the nipple area too. Breast tissue extends all the way up to the collar bone and armpit so make sure you feel these areas also.

If you notice any of the following changes, please make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible:

a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that’s not been there before

change in the size or shape of one or both breasts

discharge from nipples

swelling or lump in armpits

skin changes such as dimpling or a rash

unusual sensations in your breasts

This applies to people of all ages and backgrounds. Whilst family history can play a role, the exact cause of breast cancer isn’t known. We do know that there are some factors that can increase risk such as ageing, previous cancer, being on HRT for more than a year, excess alcohol and being overweight. However the big take home here is that breast cancer, if picked

up early, can be treated very successfully so get checking your breasts and pecs at least once a month. It’s a tiny amount of time invested for long-term health gains.