Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. According to the NHS, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
The good news is that it’s treatable, and recovery rates are good – if you catch it early enough.
The bad news is that not everybody is checking their breasts regularly, and not enough of us are aware of signs and symptoms beyond the traditional lump.
So how do you actually check your breasts?
And what are you actually looking for?
How to check your breasts for signs of breast cancer, in 5 easy steps
1. Get to know your breasts
Obviously they’re attached to you – but how well do you really know them? Most of us wash and dress on autopilot without really thinking much about them – and without spending a great deal of time looking at them or touching them day-to-day.
But in order to spot early changes you need to get to know them a bit better.
Think about how they change with your hormones over the course of a month. When are they fuller, when do they hurt? Stop and look at them in the mirror. What do they look like? How do they feel?
You’ve got to know what’s normal for you before you can spot changes.
2. Feel your way further
People say to check yourself, but they don’t always say how! It’s actually really easy. Use your hands to feel your breasts, pressing your fingers lightly into your breast tissue to feel underneath the surface. There are no hard and fast rules – just do what feels comfortable, and try to be methodical.
Breast tissue extends much further than you think, so make sure you’re going under your breasts to your rib cage, all the way up to your collarbone, and into your armpits.
There’s a great video from charity CoppaFeel to help you get started.
Don’t forget, men have breast tissue too, and can also get breast cancer, and the basic checking rules apply.
3. Know what to look for – look for lumps and think STRONG
Everyone knows the most traditional breast cancer symptom – the lump. But not all lumps are the same. A lump might be big or small, hard or soft, it might move under your skin or be anchored in one place.Not all lumps are cancer – breasts get lumps and bumps for all sorts of reasons, but whatever yours feels like, it counts as a lump, and it’s worth getting it checked out.
However, after the lump, lots of women don’t know the OTHER signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Knowing what to look for and taking the time to check puts the power back into your hands (literally), and makes you STRONG - which is a great way to remember what to look out for.
S - Shape/size
Look for any changes in the shape or size of your breasts, are there dents, swellings, a change in direction or appearance?
T - Texture
T is for texture. Is there any orange-peel dimpling or puckering?
R - Rash
Check for rashes, especially on or around your nipple.
O - Ouch
Pain is not a common sign of breast cancer, but a new or persistent pain in your breast is still worth talking to your doctor about.
Pay attention to your nipples, and any changes - for instance if one becomes sunken in or the areole shape and colour looks different.
G - Gunk
Be aware of any leaking or discharge, which may be streaked with blood.
4. Get into a routine
Once you’ve got the hang of checking your breasts and an idea of what you’re looking for, it’s time to make it part of your routine.
Maybe you do it in the shower on a Monday every week, on the first day of your period every month, in front of your favourite TV show, or lying down in bed. Maybe you set a reminder on your phone until it’s part of your routine.
Whatever you do, however you do it, keep ON doing it.
5. Make the appointment
Now more than ever it can be hard to get to your GP, and easy to feel like they’re so busy you really shouldn’t be bothering them. Or maybe you’re the one that’s too busy to wait on the phone line or fit it with everything else you’ve got to do.
Scrap all of that.
Your doctor WANTS you to tell them about this stuff, as soon as you notice it. Don’t put off making the appointment, don’t feel silly – and definitely don’t wait to see if goes away on its own.
Do it now, get it over with, and the likelihood is you’ll get the all-clear and get on with your life without looking back. But if it IS something nasty, you and everyone that loves you will be grateful that you got it checked out.
How Equipsme can help you with breast cancer
At Equipsme we’re not shy about breasts, and we’re not shy about telling you we don’t cover cancer treatment.
What we do do is help you get seen by someone fast - and with suspected breast cancer that’s absolutely key.
People on our most basic plan can talk about their symptoms with a GP 24/7, and get advice about what to do next. Those with diagnosis as part of their plan can get a referral to see a private specialist (as long as your symptoms or medical condition were not pre-existing), and get their diagnosis underway.
If it is breast cancer, you’ll have to go back to the NHS for your treatment, who will organise the multi-disciplinary team that will create your treatment plan.
AXA Health’s brilliant Health at Hand 24/7 nurse helpline is also there to help you with any questions you have about your treatment and options.
You can read more about Equipsme and cancer cover here.
How do I find out more about breast cancer?
There’s loads of great resources to find out more about breast cancer. Here’s some of them:
Breast Cancer Now
The Pink Ribbon Foundation