A North Lancashire woman, who was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer last year, is urging other women to have their routine mammograms as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (1-31 October).
"It’s so easy to assume that you’re fine and that it’s never going to happen to you – if I hadn’t gone for my mammogram it could have been much different," she said.
Nationally, 1,115,977 women aged 50-70 were screened between April 2022 and March 2021. Of those women, 9,902 women were diagnosed with cancer, which is 8.9 women for every 1,000 screened.
The woman worked as a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and as an Advanced Radiography Practitioner (ARP) for University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust before retiring in 2019. Her role as ARP in the Breast Clinic included reading mammograms and doing biopsies.
She has chosen to remain anonymous but would like to emphasise the importance of breast screening. She shares her story below.
“I wasn’t going to attend my breast screening in March 2021 because of Covid. I was 61. My previous screening mammograms had been clear so I thought there was more chance of me catching Covid at the appointment than there was of them finding cancer in my breast. How wrong I was.
“I needn’t have worried about catching Covid at the appointment, there were no other patients on the screening van in the car park at Asda when I went because of the spacing of appointments and the place was spotlessly clean with all precautions being taken. Parking was no problem either. As always, the mammographer was lovely and the process was painless. It is uncomfortable yes but only for seconds and well worth it as it turned out.”
“I was shocked to get called back for more x-rays and an ultrasound scan. It turned out I had a very small cancer in the ducts in one of my breasts. So small it wasn’t even big enough to feel so I would never have found it by checking my breasts no matter how vigilant I was. I had no other symptoms, no pain, no nipple discharge, nothing to indicate a problem. That was scary but because it was caught so early I only needed day surgery to remove a very small part of my breast and a very short course of radiotherapy.
“It really is so important to check regularly, to know your own breasts, what is normal for you, so you can more easily detect a change.”
“I am so pleased I did go to that screening appointment. If I hadn’t gone, if I had waited another three years it probably would have grown into a much bigger cancer and needed very different treatment, possibly chemotherapy. One year on I am able to get on with life with an annual mammogram to check that it doesn’t come back.
“What a wonderful service we have and it is free. I’d say it is worth those few moments of discomfort to make sure your breasts are healthy. Please don’t be embarrassed or anxious. The staff are lovely, they do a fantastic job which can save your life and even if there is something there, finding it early can make a massive difference to your future.”
Eligible women will be invited for their first breast screening mammogram before their 53rd birthday, then every three years until aged 71. Breast screening can detect breast cancer that is at an early stage when it cannot be seen or felt, and this early detection can save lives and may mean simpler and more successful treatment.
Women are encouraged to practice general breast awareness, checking for any changes to what is normal for their breasts and advised to contact their GP if they notice anything unusual from what is normal for them. This could be skin puckering, nipple discharge, a lump in the breast, collar bone or armpit area and increased thickening in the breast.