The model and actor, who has been an ambassador for Estée Lauder’s breast cancer awareness campaign for 27 years, spoke about losing her own grandmother to the disease and how attitudes towards the disease have shifted over the years.
“At that time nobody talked about it. There was no pink ribbon, no Breast Cancer Awareness month,” Hurley said, adding that when her grandmother first found a lump in her breast, she didn’t go to the doctor because she was “scared and embarrassed”.
“When she finally went it was quite progressed. But she still never talked about it.
“It’s still a life-threatening disease for many women, but times have changed. We talk about it now.”
The panelists were later joined by Addie Mitchell, a clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Now, who led the women through a live self-check demonstration with Sawalha.
“There’s a lot of fear of what they [women] might find. We know from research done that 30 per cent of women do forget to check themselves, so therefore they wouldn’t necessarily find anything,” Mitchell said.
“And we know there are cultural barriers as well to people attending GP’s with any changes…For certain cultures, of course, it’s a taboo to go to the GP – particularly a male healthcare professional.”
There are around 55,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. Almost nine in 10 women diagnosed with the disease in England survive for five years or more.
In the UK, the NHS invites women for their first breast screening between the ages of 50 and 53. Following the initial screening, women are invited back every three years until they turn 71.
Younger women in the UK are not routinely offered breast screening through the NHS. This is because research has shown that screening is less effective than it is for older women, as their breast tissue is denser, and because the risk of developing the cancer is lower.
Because of this, it is important that women regularly self-examine their breasts.
Hurley highlighted that early detection vastly improves the chances of survival.
“During the pandemic, through our breast cancer campaign, we did an Instagram post telling people about the importance of self-checking,” Hurley said.
“And two friends of mine had seen my post, both in their forties, and they both checked themselves for the first time and both found lumps. Both went to the doctor, they were both diagnosed with cancer.
“But they both found it really early. They would never have checked had they not seen that post.”