Picture Credit: Pixabay
Picture Credit: Pixabay

Today (February 4th) marks World Cancer Day 2021, an international day to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with around 55,200 new breast cancer cases every year and one in seven women being diagnosed during their lifetime.

With this in mind, Dr Penny Kechagioglou, a Clinical Oncologist specialising in breast cancer at GenesisCare, has shared advice on how to spot the illness and impressed the importance of speaking to a GP, while many may be concerned to do so during Covid-19.

Alongside this, we've got commentary from Angela, 59, who knows first-hand the importance of checking your breasts after recovering from an early diagnosis last year.

Symptoms to look out for

According to Dr Penny, there are four key warning signs:

  1. A change in your breast appearance, such as swelling, redness, change in size/shape
  2. A change in nipple appearance, such as inversion, discharge, a rash, skin puckering/dimpling or crusting
  3. Persistent pain in the breast or armpit
  4. A lump in the breast or armpit area

How to examine yourself

Explaining how to check your breasts, Dr Penny has suggested: “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 sections 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.

“The areas to examine include both breasts, areas under both armpits and areas above both collar bones.

“Once a month is an adequate time for examination. More frequently it becomes an obsession.”

The importance of checking your breasts

From personal experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2020, Angela, 59 has expressed the importance of checking your breasts.

“I would urge all women to check their breasts on a regular basis. I was lucky that my routine mammogram detected my cancer at an early stage but, sadly, this won’t always be the case. I cannot stress enough the importance of women checking their breasts independently to help with early detection. I can’t thank both the NHS and GenesisCare enough who, together, have helped me come through the other side of my cancer journey.”

Angela’s consult Dr Penny adds; “Angela’s story should remind all women to be aware of symptoms and signs of breast cancer, and if present to visit their doctor promptly if they are worried. Early detection of breast cancer can be life-saving and cancer treatments such as radiotherapy are now better tolerated with fewer side effects”.

Knowing when to visit a GP - even during Covid-19

Considering the current pandemic, Dr Penny adds; "With everyone being told to stay at home, and being shown the strain the NHS is facing, it is understandable that many are nervous to visit their GP to report non Covid conditions at the moment. However, it is important to report any symptoms to your GP as soon as you spot them.

“While there were delays in screening for large parts of 2020, it is now up and running, and treatment pathways in the majority of NHS trusts, plus in private hospitals, are open for patients.

“Breast cancer won’t just go away and patients needn’t worry about safety while visiting healthcare facilities. 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 and see your GP. Delaying your diagnosis could affect the prognosis and your chances of survival so it’s very important to seek help early."

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