One in five women under 45 would be unlikely to visit a doctor if they noticed any unusual changes to their breasts, according to research released to mark the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have caused women to deprioritise their breast health, according to the research from Estee Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign.
More than two in five women also said they would be less likely to share any concerns about their breast health with friends and family, than they would have been before the pandemic.
Estee Lauder’s campaign calls for women to reprioritise their breast health and to visit their GP if they notice a change in their breasts.
“According to the research, nearly one in 10 (8%) wouldn’t want to burden their doctor – but please take it from me, that your doctor wants to see you,” said GP and broadcaster Dr Zoe Williams, who is supporting the campaign.
With approximately 150 women diagnosed each day, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK.
Even with this statistic widely available, 20% of women check their breasts less than once a year and 10% don’t check their breasts at all.
“Regular checking is vital, ideally once a month. There are many different signs to look out for, not just lumps, such as irritation or dimpling of the skin on the breast or flaky skin in the nipple area, to name just a couple,” Dr Williams explained.
“If you notice any unusual changes, it’s important to contact your GP as soon as possible.”
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Lauren Mahon, breast cancer survivor, founder of Girl vs Cancer and co-host of You, Me and the Big C, says it is important women of all ages check their breasts.
“It’s so incredibly important for younger women to realise they’re not immune from breast cancer; it’s not just a disease that affects women at a later lifestage,” she said.
“I was only 31 when I was diagnosed with a grade 3 tumour which I found by accident, I wasn't self-examining at all. It's unsurprising but worrying to see the research found younger women (21% of 18-34-year olds) are less likely to visit a doctor if they noticed any unusual changes in their breasts.
“Knowing from first-hand experience the importance of early diagnosis, I urge women of all ages to check their breasts regularly to know what’s normal for them. It's not about looking for cancer, it's knowing your body.”
Estee Lauder’s research also found that only half (56%) of the Black women surveyed check their breasts every month.
Leanne Pero, breast cancer survivor and founder of Black Women Rising, said that this statistic worries her.
“Whilst Black women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, they are more likely to develop aggressive, more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at a young age and therefore they are more likely to die from the disease,” she said.
“I am living proof that you can survive breast cancer if you act early. I want to encourage all women, regardless of their age and ethnicity to prioritise their breast health and take action if they suspect something isn’t right.”
According to Cancer Research UK, breast cancer survival has doubled over the past 40 years, with the survival rate now at 76%. Regular breast checks play a vital role in early detection.
Breast cancer usually presents itself in a number of ways, according to Coppafeel, symptoms include:
Changes in skin texture (including puckering and dimpling)
Swelling of the armpit and around the collarbone
Lumps and thickening around the breast
Constant or unusual pain in the breast or armpit
A sudden or unusual change in size or shape
Nipple inversion or nipples that change direction
A rash or crusting of the nipple or surrounding areas
Professor Ian Smith, consultant medical oncologist and professor of cancer medicine at the Royal Marsden, and ELC-funded Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) researcher, said: “Since I first began my career in breast cancer research over 40 year ago, mortality rates have more than halved and promise to continue to decrease thanks to significant advances in breast cancer detection and treatment. This progress is in large part thanks to funding from organisations like The Estée Lauder Companies through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
“However, the coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on the fundraising of many organisations so, now more than ever, funding is needed to ensure that breast cancer research can continue to move forward.
“It’s also troubling that, as indicated by this research, some women may be less likely to share concerns about their breast health in the wake of Covid-19. The earlier a breast tumour is found, the better we can treat it, so anyone concerned about a potential breast cancer symptom should get it checked by their GP.”