Vicky Crichton: We’re doing our breast to spot early signs of cancer

Elaine C Smith in the new advertising campaign
Elaine C Smith in the new advertising campaign
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The chances are if you turned your TV on last night, an advert in which breasts are very much centre stage would have caught your attention.

Starring actress Elaine C Smith, who lost her mum to cancer, the groundbreaking advert is the first in the UK to show real pictures of breasts with visible signs of cancer.

As she stands there “topless” holding a series of cleverly positioned photographs to cover her modesty, Elaine starts off by showing us pictures of what healthy breasts look like.

She then tells us she wants to talk to us about breasts with dimples, those with skin like orange peel, and those with cracked, turned in or leaking nipples, all the while showing us images of what these potential signs of breast cancer actually look like. “It’s not just lumps that are a sign of cancer,” Elaine tells us.

The imagery is powerful and very much a reflection of what people who have experienced breast cancer tell us; that it wasn’t necessarily a lump that made them go to the doctor.

And as much as text-based awareness campaigns can carefully describe the symptoms that could be linked with breast cancer, the strength of this advert is that it uses bold images to carry the weight of a thousand words.

At Cancer Research UK we hope that this Scottish Government campaign, which is part of its £30 million Detect Cancer Early drive, will encourage more people to go to their doctor if they notice a change to their body.

We can’t emphasise enough how important it is that you don’t delay in seeing your doctor if you suspect something isn’t quite right.

You may wonder if seeing the doctor is the right thing to do but please don’t worry that you’re wasting their time. If you’ve noticed an unusual or persistent change to your body, your doctor will want to know. If you’re embarrassed, you can ask to see a female doctor.

If you’ve been to see the doctor but your symptoms haven’t gone away, or they’ve changed or got worse, it’s important that you go back. They would want to know.

Sometimes, people are put off from going to the doctor by the fear of what the doctor might find. But if it is cancer, getting it diagnosed and treated early could make a real difference. When cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, treatment is often simpler and more likely to be successful.

Get to know your body and what’s normal for you. This will mean you’re more likely to notice any changes that could be signs of cancer and need to be checked out.

In terms of breast cancer, look out for changes in the size, shape or feel of your breasts, a new lump or thickening in one breast or armpit, puckering, dimpling or redness of the skin, a change in the position of the nipple, a rash or nipple discharge, or pain or discomfort that’s new to you and only on one side. These changes can be caused by many different things and the chances are it won’t be cancer, but if it is, getting it diagnosed early can make a real difference to the outcome.

It’s also important that women consider how to help reduce their risk of breast cancer. There are lots of things you can do. Keeping active, maintaining a healthy body weight and cutting down on alcohol are all great ways to reduce the risk of developing the 
disease in the first place.

Sue Vipond, a cancer survivor who is backing our own early diagnosis poster campaign in Scottish Cancer Research UK shops, sums up why it’s so important to visit the doctor: “Spotting cancer early saved my life. Now I’m free to live it.”

Her story shows that you have nothing to lose by going to the doctor, but you could have everything to gain.

Vicky Crichton is Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Scotland. To find out more about the early signs of cancer, visit:

‘I’m getting on with life’

Margaret Hancock, from Portobello, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986 after she found a lump on her breast during a trip away.

The 66-year-old explains: “The doctor examined me and agreed that there was a lump. The following day I got a call from the hospital asking me to come in for an appointment. The whole process was very quick and they removed the lump there and then.

“Nowadays I’m fit, healthy and getting on with life. I’ve got seven beautiful grandchildren, with another on the way and I went on a fantastic cruise around the Mediterranean for my 60th birthday.”