Home News & Events News BLOG: Why is it Important to Check Your Breasts Regularly?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and breast cancer charities, survivors, patients, and treatment providers around the world, are coming together to raise awareness of the disease.

At Rutherford Cancer Centres, we provide both diagnostic screening and the latest available treatments for patients with breast cancer. With this blog, we want to close this awareness month with some important reminders, to re-emphasise how vital it is that women and men check their breasts regularly, to make sure that this type of cancer is caught in its early stages.

Why is checking your breasts important?

Put simply, checking your breasts regularly means you are more likely to notice changes in the breast early on, potentially leading to an earlier diagnosis and a greater survival rate. If caught early enough, breast cancer can be cured. However, CoppaFeel!'s annual research in 2020 showed that only 54% of women would immediately visit their doctor upon discovering early signs and symptoms.

Early detection and survival rates

Mammograms are offered to women on the NHS over the age of 50 every three years, but breast cancer can develop between screenings, making it all the more important to check your breasts, even if you’re eligible for regular mammograms.

According to Cancer Research UK,  around 41% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at stage one. At this stage, the cancer is small (2cm or less) and is located in the breast tissue or only in the nearby lymph nodes. It is possible to treat and even cure the cancer at this stage, but it relies on regular breast checks between mammograms. When caught at stage one, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98%.

Just over 37% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at stage two. This means the breast tumour is between 2-5cm, or that cancer is found in one to three lymph nodes close to the breast, or both. There is still a good prognosis for those diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, with a 90% survival rate of five years or more, but earlier detection, as always, betters the outcome for patients.

The survival rate for stage three breast cancer is considerably lower than stage two, dropping to 70% across the five years following a diagnosis. Stage three breast cancer is when the cancer has spread to the chest wall, skin, or four to nine lymph nodes. Tumours are over 5cm at this stage, and around 8% of cases are diagnosed at this point.

The final stage of breast cancer is stage four. It’s stated that around 4.9% of breast cancer diagnoses happen at stage four. This means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This could include the brain, lungs, or liver. Stage four breast cancer is not treatable, and the five-year survival rate is just 25%.

The earlier cancer is detected, the better the chances for survival are, and checking your breasts regularly will go a long way to identifying cancer in its earliest stages.

How to check your breasts 

Both men and women should check their breasts regularly because both have breast tissue. You can make a habit of checking your breasts by doing it every week when it suits you. To check your breasts, use your fingers to trace the entirety of the breast, pushing slightly to feel the tissue. Do this with your arms by your side and raised.

It’s important to extend the checks to your armpits and collarbones, too, as breast cancer can begin in the lymph nodes in this area.

You should check your breasts at different times of the month and get used to what is normal for you at certain times. Women may find that at different times in their menstrual cycle, their breasts feel different. These changes in feel or look are normal. For example, some women find that at the time of their period, their breasts swell a bit and feel more tender.

Signs that something may not be quite right:

  • Noticeable changes to the size or shape of the breast that are not normal for you
  • A change to the skin, often likened to orange peel
  • A rash or redness on the skin
  • Nipple discharge
  • A change to the position or shape of the nipple
  • A noticeable bump or lump under the armpit or on the breast
  • Pain or sensitivity in one of the breasts

Most of the time these changes won’t be cancerous, but it’s important to get checked out as soon as you notice anything that doesn’t feel normal for you.

Diagnosing breast cancer

When a change has been noticed, your GP may refer you for a mammogram, ultrasound, CTMRI or PET scan, and a biopsy (if needed). This is typically done through a process called the triple assessment, and this includes a physical breast examination, breast imaging and taking a tissue sample through a biopsy.

At the Rutherford, we run breast clinics every week at two of our centres, where those who are worried about a change in their breasts can come and have a full investigation carried out within 24 hours.

Breast cancer treatment and services at the Rutherford

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with more than 55,000 cases diagnosed every year. Checking your breasts regularly could save your life. Almost 1,000 people die from breast cancer every month in the UK, many of which are the result of late diagnosis.

There are several ways breast cancer can be treated, which includes surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy, and proton beam therapy. The type and combinations of treatment needed to treat breast cancer will vary from person to person, depending on a person’s age, medical history, gender, pre-existing health conditions and how advanced the cancer is.

If you want to find out more about our one-stop breast clinics, or if you’d like to enquire about breast cancer treatment at the Rutherford, please contact us today. And if it's been a while, please remember to check your breasts this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Sources: CoppaFeel!, Cancer Research UK


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BLOG: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

BLOG: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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