Almost half of women do not check their breasts regularly for potential signs of breast cancer, and one in 10 never do so, a survey has revealed.
Women who do not look for changes in their breasts should get in the habit of examining them, as early detection of lumps and other symptoms could save their life, experts say.
In a representative sample of 1,086 British women, 47% said that they did not regularly check their breasts for any lumps or changes to their appearance, which may indicate that cancer is present.
Specialists in breast cancer said the findings were “a cause for deep concern”, as most cases of the disease are identified when a woman has spotted a change and gone for a medical examination.
“It’s worrying that almost half of women don’t check their breasts regularly for new or unusual changes”, said Lady Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now.
Asked why they did not look out for changes, 46% of those who had not been diagnosed with breast cancer said they “forget” to do so. Others cited embarrassment or a desire not to bother their GP. “[That] highlights the urgent need to engage women with the importance of regularly checking their breasts, as an action that could ultimately save their life,” added Morgan.
A lump is the most common change that may suggest a cancer. But other symptoms include nipple discharge, dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast, the breast looking red or inflamed, and swelling in the upper chest or armpit.
Morgan reassured women that most changes turn out not to be evidence of breast cancer. “[However], when it is, a woman noticing a potential symptom and getting this checked by the GP are often the first steps that lead to diagnosis. Early diagnosis increases the chances of successful treatment, which can prevent women from dying from the disease, meaning the importance of regular breast-checking cannot be underestimated.”
Women should make checking their breasts a part of their routine, for example when they are in the shower or when putting on moisturiser, said Manveet Basra, Breast Cancer Now’s head of public health and wellbeing. Examination should include all of the breast, armpits and as far up as the collarbone, she added.
Around 55,000 women and 370 men a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. The disease claims the lives of 11,500 women and 55 men every year.
Dr Rebecca Lewis, a breast surgeon in London and secretary of the Doctors’ Association UK, said: “The survey from Breast Cancer Now showing that 47% of women do not check their breasts regularly is worrying, but echoes in my experience what we see in breast clinic.
“All women should be checking their breasts every four to six weeks and not be concerned about what they should or should not be looking for. Any new change needs to be seen by their GP.
“Women should also regularly attend their screening mammograms to detect abnormalities that can’t be felt yet. Early diagnosis is the key to discovering breast cancers when they are small, often meaning less radical treatment is possible. This can have a profound effect on our patients, their treatment and their prognoses.”
A spokesperson for the NHS in England said women should always attend routine health checks and screening. “Although some people will understandably have had reservations about coming forward during the first wave, essential cancer care was maintained, and now the number of people getting treatment for cancer is back to pre-pandemic levels, so our message to people is to come forward for care and help us to help you.”