PEOPLE are being urged to 'check their breasts' regularly and to know the signs of the UK's most common type of cancer.

Following the sad news that Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding died from breast cancer, residents across North Wales are being reminded why awareness of the disease is so important.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 50, but younger women can also get breast cancer and, although rare, so can men.

About 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime but there is a good chance of recovery if it's detected at an early stage.

What are the main symptoms to look out for?

The first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue. Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it's always best to have them checked by a doctor.

Others include:

  • a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • a rash on or around your nipple
  • a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
  • Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.

Caroline Usborne, clinical director for cancer, said: "No matter what your age, it's important to know what is normal for your body. Understand the process of examination so you are able to notice any changes.

"As doctors, we would much rather see you and give reassurance rather than bad news so it's important that people do present with symptoms as early as possible.

"We sometimes see older people who don't want to bother people or carers who don't put their health needs first

"There was a delay in the screening programme due to Covid, so it is even more important to be more vigilant with your body. It's back up and running now but of course we will have to catch up.

"We want to catch people with early, curable disease. We haven't yet seen a huge back log but we are seeing more referrals than we would normally see at this point but it's good that we are catching up.

"The prognosis is so much better than it used to be, the earlier we catch it. Cancer doesn't have to be a heated word. Even people with non-curable disease, their prognosis is better than it was in the past.

"We were so worried during Covid that people were so scared they would forget other health conditions. Covid is really important but there's more to life, more conditions with equally severe consequences of other illnesses.

"If you are worried go to your GP."

According to the NHS, the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. The condition is most common in women over age 50 who have been through the menopause. About 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer happen in women over 50.

All women who are 50 to 70 years of age should be screened for breast cancer every 3 years as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

Family history and previous breast cancer diagnosis can also be an increased risk factor as well as dense breast tissue and hormones

How should I check my breasts?

The NHS says there is no right or wrong way to check your breasts. But it's important to know how your breasts usually look and feel. That way, you can spot any changes quickly and report them to a GP.

Every woman's breasts are different in terms of size, shape and consistency. It's also possible for one breast to be larger than the other.

The NHS website advises people to get used to how your breasts feel at different times of the month. This can change during your menstrual cycle. For example, some women have tender and lumpy breasts, especially near the armpit, around the time of their period.

After the menopause, normal breasts feel softer, less firm and not as lumpy.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme has produced a 5-point plan for being breast aware:

  • know what's normal for you
  • look at your breasts and feel them
  • know what changes to look for
  • report any changes to a GP without delay
  • attend routine screening if you're aged 50 to 70

Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, and up to your collarbone. You may find it easiest to do this in the shower or bath, by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit.

You can also look at your breasts in the mirror. Look with your arms by your side and also with them raised.

Elaine Hampton, Macmillan GP facilitator, said: "It's important for people to be aware of their own bodies, and if you notice changes get them checked out.

"Breast cancer symptoms are red flags anyway, if people feel a lump they will be aware it could be breast cancer.

"It's very rare but men can also get changes to their breasts, but it can be easier for men to notice a lump, like it can be easier for women with smaller breasts to notice differences."

After the sad news of Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding died from breast cancer at the age of 39, younger people are also being urged to know their bodies.

Elaine added: "Sarah Harding had a lump in her arm pit but breast cancer can go up in your arm pit, it's one of the first places it spreads to.

"This time last year there was huge anxiety of going into any health establishment, the messaging to everyone was stay home and protect the NHS but we were still there and talking to people and seeing people if needed.

"Someone like Sarah Harding, dying of cancer so young is very unusual, even in advanced stages. Breast cancer is largely treatable, there's a lot of treatment out there.

"Unfortunately breast cancer is not just one disease and we are still learning, some are very aggressive and these can often show in younger people but that's very generalised.

"It could turn out to be nothing to worry about then you can stop worrying but if it is cancer, the sooner we pick it up the more chance it can be treated so it's a win win.

"That person putting off investigating will be living with that fear or worry but finding out, at least you know what you are dealing with."

Elaine said that last year there was a decline in people presenting and being diagnosed, but that has since picked back up and she urged people to present as early as possible.

She said: "Putting your head in the sand doesn't make it go away.

"Breast cancer symptoms are red flags, they are alarm bells not like other cancers which can be quite vague.

"Even breast cancer than cannot be cured, people can still have a good quality of life. People hear the word cancer and immediately start planning their funeral but that's not the case."

More information can be found on the NHS website.