Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in seven women will develop it in their lifetime. This is a scary statistic, but there’s a good chance of recovery if it’s detected early, which is why self-examination is so important. The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50, but young women can get it too.
Covid has meant a huge reduction in the number of people getting checked, which is why it’s more important this year than ever to pay attention to your boobs. The more regularly you check, the easier it is to notice when something has changed. It’s about getting used to your normal – enough to notice when something isn’t right. 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so performing monthly breast checks on yourself is very important, and could be lifesaving. As fluctuations in hormone levels can have an impact on how your breasts feel and look, you should perform your self-examination the week after your period.
The TLC method
For this breast cancer awareness month, if you’re not in the habit of checking already then it’s time to start. Examining your breasts yourself is simple – just remember TLC: Touch, Look, Check.
Touch your breasts using the flat side of your three middle fingers. Press down on the breast and armpit with different amounts of pressure, feeling for any lumps, hardened areas or other changes. Don’t forget the folds under your breasts and all the way up to your collarbone.
Look for changes. Stand in front of a mirror and inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides, then raise them above your head. You should be looking for anything unusual or new – swelling, dimpling, inverted nipples, rashes, a change in colour.
Check with your GP. If anything seems like a cause for concern, no matter how small, it is always worth booking in to see your GP. As scary as the thought might be, the sooner cancer is caught the higher your chances are of surviving, and your doctor has seen so many boobs by now that they will be completely unfazed by yours. If your doctor is male and you’re uncomfortable with this, you can ask if there is a female doctor or practice nurse available and your needs will be accommodated.
If you notice any of these symptoms while checking your breasts you should make an appointment with your GP.
Breast cancer lumps aren’t always painful, so even if it doesn’t hurt it’s still worth making an appointment with your GP. Chances are it won’t be serious – 8/10 lumps found are not cancerous – but it’s better to be safe than sorry! Pain in your breasts is not usually a sign of cancer, but don’t ignore pain that’s there all the time.
According to Cancer Research UK ‘When diagnosed at its earliest stage, almost all (98%) people with breast cancer will survive their disease for five years or more, compared with around 1 in 4 (26%) people when the disease is diagnosed at the latest stage.’