CANCER doesn’t discriminate. You are never too young, too successful, too famous, too fit or too healthy.
Last week, Sarah Harding bravely shared how she is having treatment for breast cancer, aged just 38.
The former Girls Aloud star doesn’t look like someone you would expect to have cancer. But that’s the scary reality.
It is rare but remains the biggest cause of death in women aged 35 to 49. That’s why it is so important all women regularly check their boobs.
But what age should you start, how often should you check and what are you looking for?
The earlier you start, the better. If you are a mum with a young daughter, openly checking your breasts in front of her and explaining what you are doing – while encouraging her to do the same – will normalise it.
The key is making it a part of your everyday self-care, just like brushing your teeth.
Often, I find patients worry about checking for the first time because they won’t know what is right or wrong.
It is important to take the pressure off yourself those first few times. The first step is getting used to your own boobs and understanding how “normal” looks and feels.
Regular checking means you will get to know your breasts. That means six months, a year, even ten years down the line, if something changes, you will be able to detect it and quickly.
The key signs to watch out for are:
- A new lump or thickening in your breast or armpit;
- Change in the size, shape or feel of your breast;
- Skin changes in the breast, including puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin;
- Fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who isn’t pregnant or breastfeeding;
- Nipple changes, including a change of position, or the nipple pulled in;
- Pain in your breast;
- A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone;
- Any other unusual or persistent changes to your breast.
If you notice any of these or are worried, the best thing to do is see your GP.
Survival rates are really, really good
During lockdown, I and lots of my colleagues have been concerned that fewer people are coming forward with symptoms that could be cancer – breast lumps, blood in their poo or testicle lumps, for example.
There are a couple of likely reasons. One is that patients think GPs have been too busy dealing with coronavirus cases.
Well, let me tell you this: No GP is EVER too busy to see a patient who thinks they might have a symptom of cancer.
The other reason putting people off is a fear they might catch coronavirus in the surgery or at hospital. But we are the specialists when it comes to keeping things clean and you are more likely to catch the virus in a supermarket.
Then there is fear in general. Cancer is a scary word and it is understandable if people are afraid.
But in most cases, these signs or symptoms will turn out to be something much less frightening than cancer.
Take breast lumps. They can be cysts or fibroadenomas – a “breast mouse” that moves about in the breast tissue. It could be caused by trauma or a sporting injury.
Survival rates for breast cancer are really, really good. If cancer is found early, it is more likely to be treatable and you will probably need less invasive treatment.
Breast cancer lets us know it is there. Many other types of cancer don’t. Their symptoms are hidden and hard to see, making them more dangerous.
What Sarah Harding is going through is really tough. But her bravery in speaking out will help raise awareness.
So show your support to her – and the thousands of other women having treatment – by checking your boobs today.
Check them, get to know them and act fast if something doesn’t feel right. It could save your life.
- Try Coppafeel’s monthly reminder text service. It is free and really helpful. See coppafeel.org/remind-me.
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