Health in the City: Are you Breast Aware?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and you know by now how passionate I am about this particular health issue.

London Mums have joined forces with BMI Healthcare to encourage women in London to be more aware of the issues surrounding their health and wellbeing in the capital. In this article we look at breast cancer and ask the question, are you breast aware?

Health in the City woman  breast aware


Most of us know someone who has had breast cancer. It is by far the most common cancer in women, with one woman in eight developing the disease.

The vast majority – some 80% – will be over 50. More positively, you may well know someone who has been successfully treated for the disease. One of the keys is early detection, and the first line of defence is you. It’s therefore important to know what to look for and make a regular check part of your routine. It really could save your life.



Being ‘breast aware’ doesn’t mean obsessively checking your breasts every day or even week. But once a month or so, take the opportunity in the bath or shower to run a soapy hand over each breast and up under each arm. You should be looking any sign of:


• A lump or thickening in an area of the breast

• A change in the size or shape

• Dimpling of the skin

• A change in the shape of your nipple, particularly if it turns in, sinks into the breast, or has an irregular shape

• A blood stained discharge from the nipple

• A swelling or lump in your armpit


Do remember that your breasts may change during your cycle. If you find thata certain lumpiness comes and goes with your periods this is normal and nothing to worry about. But any new or persistent changes should be checked out by your GP straight away.



Are you at a higher risk than normal from breast cancer? This may depend on your age, genetic history and on other lifestyle factors. Like most cancers, age is a factor. As we get older, the cells in our bodies have more chance to go wrong when they’re dividing. Family history can also increase your risk. Having a mother or sister diagnosed with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk – and yet eight out ten women who have a close relative with breast cancer will never develop it themselves. Some women have particular inherited genes (BRCA1 and 2) which carry a 50-80% chance of developing breast cancer. If you’re concerned, you can seek a genetic test, and this is a service that we offer at certain BMI hospitals.



There are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing breast cancer. Alcohol can increase your risk by between 7-12%, and there is some evidence that women who start smoking before the age of 20 may have a higher risk as well. Being overweight and working night shifts can both be factors. And some medical treatment, including medicines for blood pressure and receiving radiation treatment, can be a factor, although these should always be discussed with your GP as part of the broader picture of your general health and needs.




There is some evidence that a diet high in saturated fats (oils, butter, margarine, fat in meats, sweets, biscuits…) may increase your risk. So too may processed meats such as sausages and pies, a diet high in salt and, for women under 50, a high carbohydrate diet. More research is needed, but possible ‘good’ foods in recommended proportions include:


• Dairy products (due to their high calcium content)

• Fibre (in pre-menopausal women)

• Fruit (possibly due to antioxidants and fibre)

• Phyto oestrogens (for post-menopausal women) from soya bean products and the fibre of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and flax seed.




Exercise is important for any number of physical and mental reasons, and these include lowering your risk of breast cancer. Studies have found a protective effect of about 15 to 20% in women who take half an hour of exercise five times a week.


For more information on the women’s health services available at BMI Healthcare please visit: or call: 0808 101 0337


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