A new storyline in Eastenders has begun focusing on much-loved character Carol Jackson played by Lindsey Coulson and a breast cancer scare.
Last week Carol was shown feeling her breasts for an unusual change and tonight sees her go through the process of reporting this change to a GP and being referred to a breast care unit for tests.
As UK Manager of Breast Cancer Care’s Breast Health Promotion Service I welcome storylines such as this as they help to reach so many more people with the breast awareness message and provide information on what happens when someone notices and reports a change to their GP.
Because we are the UK's leading breast cancer support charity we hear from many people who may have concerns about breast health and how to be breast aware through our website Helpline and when we are delivering our face-to-face services.
Breast awareness is vital to women of any age because although survival rates for breast cancer are improving the number of people being diagnosed is going up – nearly 55000 people in the UK every year with around 400 cases in men. And if you do find a change in your breast that turns out to be cancer the sooner it’s diagnosed the more effective the treatment is likely to be.
Part of your body care routine
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK – with the biggest risk factors being over 50 and being a woman and for a small percentage having a strong family history – so breast awareness should be a regular part of body care. It means getting to know how your breasts look and feel so you know what’s normal for you. Then you’ll be more confident about noticing any unusual changes and seeing your GP. Remember most changes won’t turn out to be breast cancer.
How do I check my breasts?
Try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly. There’s no right or wrong way to do it and no need to alter your body care routine: for instance you can check your breasts while you’re in the bath or shower when you use body lotion or when you get dressed. Do what’s comfortable for you and suits you best. It is important to check all parts of the breast tissue with will include all parts of your breasts armpits and up to your collarbone.
Changes to look and feel for
Breast awareness is all about knowing what’s normal for you so what your breast normally look and feel like and regularly checking your breasts to see whether everything is still normal for your or if there are any unusual changes. It’s important to remember that everyone’s breasts are different and will change throughout our lifetime therefore what’s normal for you will change as well.
In Eastenders Carol found a lump in her breast which was unusual for her and could be a sign of a breast health concern. But lumps are not the only change to be aware of. There are other unusual signs and symptoms that you should know about and which you'll find by either looking at or feeling the breast tissue.
Our free handy-sized booklet Taking care of your breasts shows examples of what such breast changes could be. You can order as many copies as you like for yourself family friends and colleagues or view an interactive version online
You can also download the new Philips breast awareness app.
What to do next
If you spot any changes that are unusual for you you should see your GP as soon as you can. Don't worry about making a fuss and remember that most breast changes will turn out to be normal or because of a benign (not cancer) breast condition.
Your GP may be able to reassure you after examining your breasts or might ask you to come back at a different time in your menstrual cycle if you’re still having periods. Otherwise you might be referred to a breast clinic for a more detailed examination and assessment.
We're here to help you
If you have any breast health or breast cancer questions or concerns you can call the free confidential Helpline on 0808 800 6000.