The month of October marks Breast Cancer Awareness month here in the UK. This year more than ever due to COVID, it's incredibly important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Even if you’re on the younger side or if you’re pregnant, breast cancer can still affect you.
COVID-19 has affected many women waiting for screenings or treatment, with an estimated 1 million women having their screenings delayed. It's therefore vital we get to know our bodies and what our normal is.
The signs and symptoms of breast cancer
We spoke to Dr Penny Kechagioglou, Chief Medical Officer and Clinical Oncologist specialising in Breast at GenesisCare who shared her top tips on how to check your breasts.
Dr Penny’s warning signs:
- A change in your breast appearance, such as swelling, redness, change in size/shape
- A change in nipple appearance, such as inversion, discharge, a rash, skin puckering/dimpling or crusting
- Persistent pain in the breast or armpit
- A lump in the tissue of the breast or armpit area
How to check your breasts
"The best way to check for breast lumps (hard, non-mobile, maybe fixed to skin or chest wall) is lying down comfortably and using the opposite hand, palpate all quadrants of the breast in a clockwise or anti-clockwise motion.
"The tail of the breast that leads to the armpit should be felt, as well as a deep feel in the armpit looking for enlarged, hard and fixed lumps (lymph nodes). Palpation should be supplemented with observation of both breasts standing up and in front of a mirror.
"Ideally, both arms should go behind the head and once happy with breast appearances, then lean forward and look for any skin puckering or change in breast shape."
"Don't forget to check both breasts, areas under both armpits and areas above both collar bones." Says Dr Penny.
How often should you check your breasts?
It’s important we check our own breasts on a regular basis, but checking too often isn’t always a good idea.
Penny says, "Once a month is an adequate time for examination. More frequently it becomes an obsession. If we do a good clinical examination once a month and be aware of what is normal for you and present early when something doesn’t look right which, could be between your examinations that you do at home. If you see something isn’t right, you should come forward and see your doctor."
Breast cancer in pregnancy
Sadly, breast cancer can affect women at any stage of their lives and even in some cases, during pregnancy.
"If you’re worried it’s always best to see a specialist," says Dr Penny.
"I would say the majority of the lumps that are found in pregnancy in the breast are part of the normal changes in the breast but it’s important to have these checked in case there is an abnormality."
If you're in need of further support if you are going through breast cancer and pregnancy and need some help, there are a lot of breast cancer charities including Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Now that provide information for women in every stage of their lives, including women in pregnancy.
"Treatment can be offered during pregnancy and a treatment plan can be figured out so that the pregnancy can continue as normal to allow you to have a healthy baby." Says Penny.
Read more about breast cancer during pregnancy here.
What to do if you're worried about visiting a GP surgery or hospital
With all the changing rules and regulations telling us to avoid social situations as much as possible, it's understandable you might want to avoid places such as hospitals or GP surgeries as much as possible. However, if you think you may be showing signs of breast cancer, it's important to get checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible.
"Healthcare facilities are taking precautions in terms of COVID-19 with social distancing measures, cleaning and equipment to keep it safe so you'll be safe to go an see your GP. Delaying your diagnosis could affect the prognosis and your chances of survival so it’s very important to seek help early." Says Dr Penny.
If you have been affected by cancer or you are worried about symptoms, there are many helpful charities and resources that can offer help and support throughout your journey.
- Breast Cancer Now - With the impact of COVID, Breast Cancer Now are doing a lot to help out women affected by breast cancer during the pandemic.
- Cancer Research UK - Have you been impacted by a different kind of cancer? Visit Cancer Research UK for further help.
- CoppaFeel - This charity can provide you with more help when it comes to checking your breasts.
- Against Breast Cancer - They're on a mission to find a vaccine against breast cancer.
- Pink Ribbon Foundation - Find plenty of helpful information and support for those with breast cancer.