Don't ignore breast cancer signs during Covid — speak up and check your breasts

CORONAVIRUS is arguably the biggest health crisis we have faced in our lifetime.

But it’s not just the virus that threatens our physical and mental health.

The knock-on effect of the pandemic is likely to be as ­catastrophic as Covid-19, with delays to cancer, heart and stroke services and patients avoiding A&E for fear of ­catching the disease.

For months the NHS was transformed into a lean and mean Covid-fighting machine, but it IS open for business.

I have heard so many stories of patients who, in ­lockdown, ignored health concerns, put off booking appointments or felt too scared to see their doctor.

While I understand coronavirus has been terrifying for many, it is important people understand the rest of their health needs attention.

TOO EASILY EMBARRASSED

It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and worrying new research from Estee Lauder has found that one in five women (21 per cent) have deprioritised their breast health.

The findings show a fifth of women under 45 (20 per cent) say they are currently unlikely to visit a doctor if they notice any unusual changes to their boobs.

Part of the problem in this country is that we are all too easily embarrassed.

I find patients can feel shy when it comes to talking about their breasts – it’s seen as a taboo. And it’s not just doctors they are reluctant to chat boobs with.

As women we gain so much from sharing our worries and problems with friends, often over a glass of wine or dinner.

But in lockdown, more women were left feeling isolated and less connected to their pals.

Losing that social contact naturally meant women were less likely to speak up and talk about their breasts.

If we want to really tackle cancer, and stop more and more people dying from this disease, the first step is speaking up.

CHECK YOUR BREASTS REGULARLY

By normalising these conversations, bringing them into our homes and discussing our boobs and bodies with our children, we really can start to make a difference.

If your daughter grows up watching you check your breasts regularly, she is more likely to follow your lead.

If she grows up in a home where it is normal to discuss body worries and boobs, then she is much more likely to feel confident addressing any issues later in life.

The research by Estee Lauder found 20 per cent of women said they check their boobs less than once a year, while one in ten admitted to never checking their breasts.

As a GP and a woman, this terrifies me – it needs to change. Early detection is vital and unlike pancreatic and ovarian cancer, in many cases the signs and symptoms of breast cancer are there to be detected.

That’s why regularly checking is vital – ideally you should do it once a month. It’s not just about lumps. You should be looking for ­irritation or dimpling of the skin on the breast, or flaky skin around the nipple area, to name a few.

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Estee Lauder is holding a Time To Unite virtual self-check event on ­October 21 at 7pm and I would urge you to take part.

I will be, along with Elizabeth Hurley and breast cancer survivors Leanne Pero and Lauren Mahon.The event will feature inspiring stories as well as the largest ever self-check – with the option to turn your camera off!

If you ever notice any unusual changes, the first thing you should do is contact your GP straight away.

Typically, we women tend to prioritise the health of kids and loved ones before our own. And it’s female nature to try to avoid being a burden to anyone.

But please take this from me – your doctor WANTS to see you and will never, ever see you as a burden.

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