What's normal for you? The breast cancer symptoms to check for monthly

Watch: Nadine Coyle and Nicola Roberts pay tribute to bandmate Sarah Harding following her death.

Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding has passed away at the age of 39 following a devastating battle with breast cancer.

The star's mother confirmed the tragic news in an Instagram post on her daughter's account on Sunday morning.

"It's with deep heartbreak that today I'm sharing the news that my beautiful daughter Sarah has sadly passed away. Many of you will know of Sarah's battle with cancer and that she fought so strongly from her diagnosis until her last day. She slipped away peacefully this morning," her mother wrote.

"I'd like to thank everyone for their kind support over the past year. It meant the world to Sarah and it gave her great strength and comfort to know she was loved. I know she won't want to be remembered for her fight against this terrible disease – she was a bright shining star and I hope that's how she can be remembered instead," her mother's statement continued.

Read more: Men get breast cancer too

Sarah Harding has tragically past away following her breast cancer diagnosis, pictured in May 2016. (Getty Images)
Sarah Harding has tragically passed away following her breast cancer diagnosis, pictured in May 2016. (Getty Images)

Harding first revealed her cancer diagnosis in August 2020 before further detailing her health battle in her memoir, Hear Me Out.

In the book, the singer revealed that she'd overlooked a potential symptom of her cancer, dismissing pain around her breast as a cyst.

In an extract, Harding explained: "At first I thought it was just a cyst. I’d been playing my guitar a lot, and I thought the strap had probably irritated an area around my breast.

"The trouble was, the pain was getting worse. It got so bad that I couldn’t sleep in a bed any more. I slept on the sofa, popping painkillers like they were Smarties. I really overdid it, but the pain was overwhelming. Eventually, my skin started to bruise, and by now I was terrified."

Watch: How to check your breasts during pregnancy

Symptoms of breast cancer

According to Dr Belinda Griffiths, GP at Fleet Street Clinic the warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.

In fact there are many different symptoms which could indicate something is wrong, but the most common signs are:

Any skin changes but especially “dimpling” of the skin. "This means small lumps or bumps in the skin, especially if only on one breast," Dr Griffiths adds.

Asymmetry which is new or not previously noticed. "This means a difference in one breast, which looks and/ or feels different from what’s normal for you," she explains.

Nipple changes, such as bleeding, discharge or ulcers or cracks which do not heal.

Persistent breast pain with no obvious cause. "Some women experience breast pain prior to and during their period but if this pain does not settle after menstruation this requires investigation," Dr Griffiths adds.

Any lump in the breast and/or armpit must be checked by a GP. "They will inevitably refer you to a specialist, who’ll carry out a mammogram and /or ultrasound and if indicated, a painless needle biopsy. For reassurance, results will be provided as soon as possible," Dr Griffiths says.

If you notice any warning signs, they must be checked by your GP to rule out breast cancer.

Read more: I had a double mastectomy at 25. Now I design lacy lingerie for women like me

It is important to get to know what is normal for your breasts. (Getty Images)
It is important to get to know what is normal for your breasts. (Getty Images)

The importance of early detection

According to Cancer Research UK, breast cancer survival has doubled over the past 40 years, with the survival rate now at 76%.

There are many things you can do, including regular checks, to give you the best chances of early diagnosis.

Mammograms are offered to women aged 50 and older every year, and this helps to boost early detection. Women as young as 30 will also be offered the screening if they’re deemed higher risk.

For others, Coppafeel recommends that checking your breasts should become a monthly habit.

"By checking on a regular basis, you will also build the confidence of knowing what is normal for you each month. Everyone has to start somewhere, so don’t worry if you’re not feeling confident straight away," the site explains.

At the moment, however, figures from the charity reveal that only around 30% of young women are checking on a monthly basis, with just half (50%) feeling confident in checking themselves.

Charity Breast Cancer Now, agree about the importance of performing a self-check every month and recommend women contact their GP with any worries or concerns.

This is because early breast cancer diagnosis increases the chance of successful treatment.

If you're checking your boobs regularly this will mean you'll also get to know what is normal for you.

It might be a good idea to check at different times each month so you can discover how your boobs change because of hormonal fluctuations.

Read more: One in five women unlikely to visit doctor with breast health concerns

Experts recommend checking your breasts monthly. (Getty Images)
Experts recommend checking your breasts monthly. (Getty Images)

How to check your breasts

The NHS recommends doing your monthly check in the bath or shower, using the soapy water to make the process a little easier to spot anything out of the ordinary.

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

Feeling your armpits should be a key part of your monthly check, too.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme has produced a five-point plan, making it easier than ever to know what you’re looking out for.

The five simple points are:

  • Know what's normal for you

  • Look at your breasts and feel them

  • Know what changes to look for

  • Report any changes without delay

  • Attend routine screening if you're 50 or over

When it comes to actually checking your breasts, Dr Griffiths recommends dividing your breasts into four quadrants; the upper outer quadrant, outer lower quadrant, inner lower quadrant and inner upper quadrant.

"Examine each quadrant with the flat of your hand," she says. "It is important to do this regularly so that you are familiar with what each breast feels like normally.

"That way, should you notice any changes," she adds.

Dr Griffiths says it is important to remember to check your armpits as well. "It is surprising how many breast lumps are discovered after an “axillary” or armpit lymph node is found and checked," she explains.

In addition to regular self-checks, it is important to never miss a mammogram appointment.

"They may be painful and momentarily uncomfortable, but a mammogram can save your life," Dr Griffiths says.

If your breasts change and you’re not sure of the cause, it’s important to book in an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

There are a number of different reasons for lumps and changes to your breasts, aside from breast cancer, but it’s always worth getting it checked.