We often talk about the importance of self care, reminding you to drink more water, make time for a daily walk, read more… but have you checked your breasts recently? If not, it’s time to add breast awareness to your self care routine, this and every month.
Checking your breasts regularly is one of the most important things you can do to look after your health, now and for your future self.
Breast cancer is one of the most common female cancers in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. And it’s a misconception that it only affects women in later life. Whilst it’s true that you are more likely to develop breast cancer as you get older, it's also important to note that younger women - and men - are also at risk.
And the numbers are rising. There were 84 new breast cancer diagnoses in 2021, an increase on the figures for 2020.
We’re not here to alarm you. Quite the opposite in fact. The latest Channel Islands cancer report shows that survival rates are higher for women here on island than in Jersey and in England. Plus, the earlier that breast cancer is detected, the more treatment options are available.
In fact, awareness and early detection are essential: 59 of the breast cancer cases diagnosed in 2021 were found because people found possible signs of breast cancer and had them checked out. The other 25 were detected as a result of Guernsey's breast screening programme.
So checking for signs and symptoms of breast cancer is something we all need to do. Like, now. Make time for that appointment. And start checking yourself. This only takes a few minutes and you can do it in the comfort of your own home.
Sharon Treacy, Nurse Consultant at Guernsey's Breast Screening Unit told us: "We've seen an increase in younger women being referred to us in recent times, so it's important that you check your breasts from an early age. Although breast cancer rates are highest in more mature women, don't assume that checking your breasts is something that you can put off until you are in your 50's. Early screening is important, as the earlier the cancer is detected the easier it is to treat - and the outcomes and survival rates are much higher"
The starting point to becoming more breast self-aware is knowing how your breasts normally look and feel. If you know what’s normal for you, it’s easier to recognise when changes occur. And remember, everybody’s breasts are different, so you’re looking for changes specific to your breasts, not comparing your breast size, shape or consistency to any preconceived ideas you have of how your breasts should look or feel.
Get to know how your breasts feel. Sharon advises that women check their breasts once a month, after their menstrual cycle. This will ensure consistency as breast tissue will change throughout the month with your hormones. If you do not have periods, you should pick the same time every month for the same reason. Consistency is key here, and while it may feel a bit daunting at first, it can soon become part of your regular self care routine and you’ll sail through your regular checks without it seeming like such a big deal.
One of the easiest ways to check your breasts is to start with a visual check in front of a mirror, but you can also check your breasts in the shower and while you are lying down. Whichever way you choose to examine your breasts, here are five things you should be paying attention to.
1. Be aware of the overall size and shape of your breasts so you can notice any changes.
2. Look for changes to the skin around your breast, such as redness or dimpling.
3. Check your nipples for discharge, crusting, redness or an inversion.
4. Feel for new lumps or general lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast.
5. Pay attention to any unusual pain in your breast or armpit that doesn’t go away.
If you're not quite sure where to start, take a look at How To Examine Your Breasts Properly by Dr Liz O'Riordan. She is a Consultant Breast Surgeon who, ironically, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. In her video she talks through the process, showing you what you should be looking for.
Remember that our bodies are changing all the time, so don’t panic if you do see or feel a change in your breasts. Most tissue changes are not cancer, but if you do discover changes, you need to have this checked out by a professional. Contact your GP straight away if you notice anything unusual or concerning - and if you are invited to attend breast screening, take the appointment.
Guernsey has a dedicated breast screening unit with state of the art screening equipment that can detect abnormalities in the breast tissue that may be too small for you or your doctor to see or feel. It’s free, only takes around 10 minutes and you don’t need a doctor’s referral. Plus, we can personally vouch for the friendliness and professionalism of the team.
If you’re aged between 50-75 you’ll be invited for breast screening every 2 years. If that's you, and you haven't been called for screening, get in touch with the Breast Screening Unit. And whatever your age, if you’ve noticed a change in your breast health or have any concerns do not wait for a screening invitation. Instead, tell your GP or contact the Breast Screening Unit as soon as possible for advice. Visit gov.gg/screening for more details.