The research, led by charity Breast Cancer Now, found that the most common reasons women cited for not checking their breasts regularly were because they forget (41%) and because they don’t feel confident in checking (21%). 

Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in the UK, with around 55,000 women being diagnosed with the disease each year. With incidence continuing to rise, the charity has today urged women across the country to get into the habit of checking regularly for signs and symptoms of the disease.

The survey of more than a thousand women across England, Scotland and Wales also found that while most women are able to identify a lump as a sign of breast cancer, only 58% could correctly recall three or more signs of breast cancer.

Almost a third (29%) of those who had checked their breasts before weren’t confident they’d be able to spot a change in their breasts, and 12% of those who check regularly reported feeling unsure of the signs and symptoms they should be looking out for.

Around two thirds of breast cancer cases are found by women noticing unusual changes in their breasts and checking it with their doctor – and the earlier the disease is detected, the more likely treatment is to be successful. 

The new figures come just weeks after the news that the number of women dying from breast cancer each year in the UK is set to rise within four years – as a result of increasing incidence, largely due to the UK’s ageing population and the rise in obesity levels.

The survey found that London has the smallest proportion of women who check regularly – at just 39%, whilst women in the South West of England being the most likely to check regularly (56%).

In light of the “extremely concerning” figures, Breast Cancer Now has relaunched its ‘Touch Look Check’ campaign, encouraging women to know the signs and symptoms to look out for, including:

  • a lump or lumpy area in the armpit, upper chest or breast – this may not be seen, but it might be felt
  • changes to skin texture – such as puckering or dimpling to the skin of the breast
  • change in the nipples – one nipple might become inverted (turned in) when it normally points outwards
  • any unusual discharge from one or both nipples
  • rash or crusting of the nipple or surrounding area
  • colour change, such as redness or inflammation
  • changes to the size or shape of the breast – one breast might become larger than the other

Mandee Castle, from Deal, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, aged 45. On a visit to her doctor about a mole on her back, she also decided to ask about a dip on her left breast. Although her doctor thought it was probably nothing to worry about, Mandee was referred to a breast clinic just to be sure. Mandee was diagnosed with five breast tumours – she had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. In 2014, Mandee had a second mastectomy and reconstruction.

Mandee said:

When I first noticed a dip in my breast, I wasn’t too concerned – I thought it was just something to do with the fact I’d breastfed for 10 months. But I’d seen something about breast checking on TV that said breast cancer wasn’t always a lump, so I decided to get it checked out.

When I found out it was breast cancer, I was completely numb. Telling my family was so difficult, because I just didn’t have answers to their questions.

I’m so glad I got my dip checked out by my doctor – catching my cancer early meant it was more likely I’d be successfully treated, which, thankfully, I was. It’s so important to check regularly and to know what feels right for you, so you can spot if it’s wrong. If you find something earlier, it makes everything so much easier in the long term.

Eluned Hughes, Head of Public Health and Information at Breast Cancer Now, said:

It’s extremely concerning that so many women aren’t checking their breasts regularly and that many others aren’t sure what to look for. It’s so important that all women are breast aware, as the earlier the disease is detected, the more likely treatment is to be successful. 

It’s our ambition that by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live – and live well. But with incidence rising, we need to act now to detect more cancers earlier. 

Checking your breasts only takes a few minutes. There’s no special technique, and you can do it whenever suits you – whether you’re in the shower, or waiting for the kettle to boil. By checking regularly, you’ll be more likely to notice any unusual changes, like a lump or dimpled skin on your breast, as early as possible.

It’s as easy as Touch Look Check. Just get to know what looks and feels normal for you, check regularly and report any unusual changes to your doctor. It could save your life.