I have been invited back to write a blog to give you the facts and make you feel more comfortable with looking after yourself. Whatever you call them, breasts, boobs, jugs, tits, knockers, bazookas….. I really don’t care as long as you know what to look out for! Breast cancer can occur in people of all ages, races and genders. In the UK 1 in 7 women and 1 in 100 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. With many cancers the earlier you catch it the more treatable it is. The aim of screening is to identify breast cancer before it spreads and becomes more difficult to treat.

Breast Screening

From the age of 47 you will get an invite through the post for breast screening. This can be anywhere as there are mobile breast screening units as well as units in hospitals. From the age of 50-71, you will be invited every 3 years. If you are at high risk due to family history or medications then you may be invited at different times or for an ultrasound instead of mammography. 

The breast screening is done using a mammogram which is a type of x-ray. Mammography can be difficult for some people as it can be uncomfortable. A female mammographer will bring you into the room and you undress down to the waist. Your breast gets put between two flat bits of thick plastic and it is compressed, which is the sore bit, but it is over very quickly. Those with breast implants can still have mammography but sometimes you may need more imaging as some implants make it difficult to see the breast tissue, however you should still go for your mammogram. 

For those under 50, it can make people nervous thinking that they aren’t being screened. There are a number of reasons for this. The risks of screening outweigh the benefits when you are younger. This is because the breast tissue is denser so is more difficult to spot cancers on the mammograms and also as the mammogram is radiation (which can cause cancers) we need to be careful. 

This is why it is so important to check yourself and not rely solely on the breast screening process! If you are concerned about an area do not wait until your next mammogram or try to bring it forward, go and see your GP. Once the GP has examined you and they are concerned about an area then you will be referred to the cancer investigating clinic 2-week wait pathway. Breast clinics are really good at seeing patients and investigating on the same day. Breast cancer can affect those of any age so it is so important to learn how to check yourself and tell everyone you know. 

How to do a breast check

Breast checks should be done by people of all ages and genders. It takes a few minutes to do but it is so important. The first thing to explain is that your breast tissue actually goes all the way up to your collar bone and into your armpits. 

The whole point of a breast check is to know what feels normal for you so really there is no wrong way to do it. There is no particular way breasts should feel or look – everyone is different so getting to know yourself is really important. The main thing you need to know is that you should feel all over the breast and into the armpit. When you do this regularly you will know when there is a change. 

Symptoms of breast cancer to look or feel for

Skin: Look for changes in skin texture, eczema around the nipples, skin puckering or skin looking like orange peel/

Armpits: check for lumps here as well

Lumps: feel for any lumps or thickening

Pain: Sometimes there can be unusual persistent pain. Pain can be normal around your period but persistent pain in one area can be a sign of something else going on. 

Nipples: Nipples inverting suddenly or with discharge. 

If you are not sure about any of the information then I really recommend coppafeel.org, they have an Instagram account, really good website and a reminder service to check yourself. The NHS resources are really good as well and of course if you are not sure or have concerns please book in for an urgent appointment with your GP. 

Written by Dr Rebecca Suttie (MBChB) CGUK member and GP