After Sarah Ferguson’s shock cancer diagnosis… here’s how YOU can check your breasts

Sarah, Duchess of York, has undergone an operation to treat breast cancer, it has been revealed.

The 63-year-old duchess was diagnosed after a routine mammogram and has since undergone surgery, which her spokesperson said was successful.

Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease in the UK, with around 55,000 women and 370 men being diagnosed with it each year, according to Breast Cancer Now. 

While breast cancer is highly treatable, it is crucial to spot it as early as possible, as the longer it goes without treatment the higher the risk it can pose.

Despite years of pleas from cancer charities, more than a third of women in the UK still do not regularly assess their breasts.

With thousands across the country unsure of how to spot the key signs of the potentially deadly cancer, here MailOnline gives a guide on how to check your breasts and other symptoms to look out for.

Sarah, Duchess of York, has undergone an operarion to treat breast cancer, it has been revealed.

Sarah, Duchess of York, has undergone an operarion to treat breast cancer, it has been revealed.

Checking your breasts should be part of your monthly routine so you notice any unusual changes. Simply, rub and feel from top to bottom, feel in semi-circles and in a circular motion around your breast tissue to feel for any abnormalities

Checking your breasts should be part of your monthly routine so you notice any unusual changes. Simply, rub and feel from top to bottom, feel in semi-circles and in a circular motion around your breast tissue to feel for any abnormalities

How and what should you check? 

Checking your breasts could help find signs of breast cancer early. This means you have a better chance of beating the disease, experts say.

It should be part of your monthly routine so you notice any unusual changes, charity CoppaFeel says.

But according to a YouGov survey commissioned by Breast Cancer Now, 39 per cent of women don’t bother.

More than half who do not check their breasts simply forget to, while 16 per cent do not know how to check. 

Dr Sarah Kayat, who, with the help of a topless cancer survivor, showed viewers on ITV’s This Morning how to perform a breast exam, said at-home breast exams save 1,300 lives in the UK each year.

You can check in the shower, when you are lying down in bed or in the mirror before you get dressed.  

Because breast tissue isn’t just found in your boobs, it’s also important that men and women check the tissue all the way up to their collarbone and underneath their armpit. 

There is no right or wrong way to check your breasts, as long as you know how your breasts usually look and feel, says the NHS.

But one of the most popular methods online involves using the pads of your fingers.  

Simply, rub and feel from top to bottom, feel in semi-circles and in a circular motion around your breast tissue to feel for any abnormalities, according to a guide shared in a blog post by the University of Nottingham

If you spot any changes you should get it checked out by your GP.  

Women aged between 50 and 70 should also be attending routine breast cancer screening. 

Symptoms of breast cancer to look out for include lumps and swellings, dimpling of the skin, changes in colour, discharge and a rash or crusting around the nipple

Symptoms of breast cancer to look out for include lumps and swellings, dimpling of the skin, changes in colour, discharge and a rash or crusting around the nipple

Check for… 

A lump or swelling

Using your fingers feel for lumps or swellings in the breast, upper armpit and chest.

A lump or an area of thickened breast tissue that doesn’t move easily is one of the first noticeable symptoms of breast cancer, says the NHS.

And according to the American Cancer Society, it’s the most common symptom. It says the lumps are often hard and painless.

But when feeling for unusual lumps and bumps it is important to know what is normal for you, experts say.

The NHS advises women get used to how their breasts feel at different times of the month. This is because some women have tender and lumpy breasts, near the armpit, around the time of their period.

The feel of your breasts can also change after the menopause as normal breasts can feel softer less firm and not as lumpy.

As well as checking for lumps, visible changes to the shape and size of the breast is also important.

Changes to the skin

Another common sign of breast cancer is a change the skin.

This can usually just be seen in the mirror and includes puckering or dimpling of the skin.

More than a third of women in the UK do not check their breasts regularly for potential signs of breast cancer, according to the charity Breast Cancer Now [File photo]

More than a third of women in the UK do not check their breasts regularly for potential signs of breast cancer, according to the charity Breast Cancer Now [File photo]

The dimpling skin is often compared to orange peel and can be associated with inflammatory breast cancer, which is a rare but aggressive form of cancer. 

A change in colour is also a warning sign to get checked out, says Breast Cancer Now.

If you notice your breast looks red or inflamed, it could be a sign of cancer.

Pain is only a symptom of breast cancer in rare cases, the NHS says. But if you feel pain or discomfort in one breast that doesn’t go away you should see your GP.

A nipple change

It’s important to not just check your breast tissue for abnormalities, but also your nipples, experts say.

Look for rashes or crusting around the nipple.

The NHS says this could look like eczema, crusting of the skin, scaly, itchy or red skin.

You should also check the position of your nipple, the NHS advises.

If it is being pulled in or starting to point in a different way to usual, it could be a sign of breast cancer.

Another warning sign to get checked out by your GP is discharge from either nipple.

Discharge is more common in Ductal Carcinoma in situ, which is an early form of breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts. 

Cancer Research says the discharge can also be blood stained.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world and affects more than two MILLION women a year

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases, and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the US, it strikes 266,000 each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?

What is breast cancer?

It comes from a cancerous cell which develops in the lining of a duct or lobule in one of the breasts.

When the breast cancer has spread into surrounding tissue it is called ‘invasive’. Some people are diagnosed with ‘carcinoma in situ’, where no cancer cells have grown beyond the duct or lobule.

Most cases develop in those over the age of 50 but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men, though this is rare.

Staging indicates how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. Stage 1 is the earliest stage and stage 4 means the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

The cancerous cells are graded from low, which means a slow growth, to high, which is fast-growing. High-grade cancers are more likely to come back after they have first been treated.

What causes breast cancer?

A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.

Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the chance, such as genetics.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most are not cancerous and are fluid filled cysts, which are benign. 

The first place that breast cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs you will develop a swelling or lump in an armpit.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

  • Initial assessment: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may do tests such as a mammography, a special x-ray of the breast tissue which can indicate the possibility of tumours.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.

If you are confirmed to have breast cancer, further tests may be needed to assess if it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the liver or a chest X-ray.

How is breast cancer treated?

Treatment options which may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. Often a combination of two or more of these treatments are used.

  • Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or the removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumour.
  • Radiotherapy: A treatment which uses high energy beams of radiation focused on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops them from multiplying. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: A treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer drugs which kill cancer cells, or stop them from multiplying.
  • Hormone treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen, which can stimulate the cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments which reduce the level of these hormones, or prevent them from working, are commonly used in people with breast cancer.

How successful is treatment?

The outlook is best in those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small, and has not spread. Surgical removal of a tumour in an early stage may then give a good chance of cure.

The routine mammography offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 means more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

For more information visit breastcancernow.org or call its free helpline on 0808 800 6000

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