25 May 2022

44% of women said having breast cancer negatively impacted their body image and a quarter (25%) said the same for their sense of identity, according to new research* published by Breast Cancer Now today (Wednesday 25 May).

Of 1,007 women diagnosed with breast cancer in Britain surveyed by You Gov, worryingly more than a third (37%) said their diagnosis worsened their mental health and self-esteem.

And many women feel uncomfortable talking about these issues with 40% reporting they didn’t discuss their body image or how they felt about their body with anyone. Just under a third (31%) of these women said it didn’t feel important enough for them to talk about, 31% said they weren’t asked, while 12% didn’t know who to speak to and 9% felt embarrassed.

But for those who had talked about it, two thirds (64%) reported a positive response. And 69% of all the breast cancer patients surveyed felt society needs to further open up these conversations.

These findings echo discussions Breast Cancer Now’s expert nurses have daily with women who share how breast cancer has impacted their mental health, body image and sense of identity,  via the charity’s free Helpline (0808 800 6000) and Ask Our Nurse email forum.

Today, in a bid to further encourage debate around these important issues, Breast Cancer Now has brought together a panel of breast cancer patients and experts in the field, to discuss how perceptions around body image and breast cancer can be shifted.

Host, Breast Cancer Now Ambassador Dame Jenni Murray, was diagnosed with the disease in 2006 and was successfully treated with surgery and chemotherapy. She will drive the conversation at the event at the AllBright Club in London, with panellists: Emma Campbell (author, speaker and secondary breast cancer patient), Professor Diana Harcourt (Co-Director of the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR) at the University of West England), Soozie Jenkinson (Head of Lingerie Design at M&S) and Georgette Oni (reconstructive surgeon and Breast Cancer Now Trustee).

Panel host, broadcaster and author Dame Jenni Murray said:

“Having had breast cancer I know it can affect people in many ways beyond solely being a physical condition - having a mastectomy and losing my hair during treatment made me feel doubly unattractive but talking about this with my family and close friends meant I didn’t feel alone. It’s encouraging most women (64%) who talked about how their breast cancer diagnosis impacted their body image in Breast Cancer Now’s new research report positive responses, but 69% feel we need to open up conversations. I think often these issues can get dismissed as ‘light and fluffy’ compared with ‘serious’ matters of treatment and recovery so we need to create a supportive culture and break down stigma, so women are comfortable to talk.

That’s why I’m so delighted to be hosting a panel of women today who speak from direct experience of breast cancer and experts in the field, and I hope this important discussion inspires many further conversations to take place.”

The survey also highlighted some positive reflections, including almost six in ten (59%) women feeling more appreciative of their body and everything it had been through since being diagnosed with the disease.

Women also shared things that have helped them feel better about their body image and reclaim their identity after a breast cancer diagnosis. This included physical activity helping them to feel more confident (28%) and agreeing that fashion and clothing (28%) and make up and beauty products (22%) are helping them to reclaim their identity.

Sally Kum, Breast Cancer Now’s Associate Director of Nursing and Health Information, said:

“Through our Helpline and our support services, women share with us how their experience of breast cancer has negatively impacted their mental health and body image. Not all women will feel like this, but it’s incredibly sad that, as our new research shows, many who do are unable to talk about what they are experiencing, sometimes due to embarrassment, feeling it’s unimportant, or not knowing who to turn to.

"Around 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK and at Breast Cancer Now we’re determined to remove any stigma they may feel around talking about these issues. My team of expert nurses are here to provide information and support to help women feel empowered and comfortable to do this. We’re here for anyone affected by breast cancer via our free Helpline (0808 800 6000) and support services.”  

Emma Campbell, author, speaker and secondary (metastatic) breast cancer patient, said:

“Breast cancer treatment is brutal on many levels and certainly takes its toll on our bodies.  I’m living with secondary breast cancer and on some days I feel incredibly proud of all my body has been through and celebrate my scars as testament to that, but at other times I look in the mirror and struggle with what I see in the reflection.

“The physical changes have impacted me in many different ways over the last 12 years and losing my hair when I was first diagnosed was, of course, a huge shock but I adjusted and came to embrace the shorter style with time.  My love for running helps me appreciate and celebrate how my body is working for me rather than how it’s not and that mindset shift has been a huge help.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel you look great and it’s important not to shy away from these conversations. I openly share my personal experience of breast cancer as I firmly believe that talking candidly about its impacts on things such as body image and identity helps to normalise and open up these much-needed conversations and help other women to feel less alone.”  

Anyone seeking information and support can speak to Breast Cancer Now’s expert nurses by calling the charity's free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 or by contacting our Ask Our Nurse email forum.

ENDS

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact the Breast Cancer Now press office at press@breastcancernow.org or on 07436 107914.

Notes to Editors:

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1007 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 27th April 2022.  The survey was carried out online.

About Breast Cancer Now:

Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s first comprehensive breast cancer charity, combining world-class research and life-changing care.

Breast Cancer Now’s ambition is that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live and be supported to live well.

Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity, launched in October 2019, created by the merger of specialist support and information charity Breast Cancer Care and leading research charity Breast Cancer Now.

Visit breastcancernow.org or follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

Anyone looking for support or information can call Breast Cancer Now’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.