'Never put it off' - Breast cancer survivor's message following star's death
- Credit: PA
A Suffolk breast cancer survivor has urged anyone with symptoms to get checked out following the death of popstar Sarah Harding.
The singer, who found fame with Girls Aloud, revealed last August that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which had spread to other parts of her body.
On Sunday, her mother Marie announced the death of the 39-year-old on Instagram, saying her "beautiful" daughter was "a bright shining star".
Writing in a memoir before she died, the singer said she hoped that going public with her diagnosis might help save other women from going through what she did.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 15% of all new cases, and about one in eight women are diagnosed with it during their lifetime, according to NHS statistics.
Men can also develop the disease in rare cases. It grows in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples.
Nichola Whymark, 44, from Martlesham, who was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 36, said she always tells people with concerns to see someone.
"If someone says to me: 'I'm worried, I might have found a lump' then I tell them: 'Go to the GP, you've got to get to the GP'.
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"I'm a really strong advocate for people being seen and heard, and body savvy. Because early detection and early diagnosis, saves lives.
"What really hit me was this young, vibrant and beautiful woman being ripped away because of cancer.
"One minute she's there, she's vibrant, she's singing and dancing and the next you're getting told by the media that it's spread and the outlook is not good.
"I think that's what really hits people, especially those who are going through treatment at the moment."
She added: "Never put it off. Speak to someone or go and see someone, ideally a GP, and I would urge people to be really body savvy. There's some wonderful resources out there from the likes of Coppa Feel and Breast Cancer Now that everyone can access."
Many breast cancer charities have shared details of warning signs and advice following the death of Harding.
The Pink Ribbon Foundation, which was among those paying tribute to Harding on social media, said: "Despite increased use of screening, most signs of breast cancer are picked up via self checking, which is why it's so important to get into the habit of checking your chest regularly and from an early age.
"The earlier that breast cancer is diagnosed, the more successful the treatment plan. However, in around 5% of women, breast cancer has already spread when it's diagnosed.
"Around 35,000 people are estimated to be living with secondary (metastatic) breast [cancer].
"Secondary breast cancer is incurable but treatments are available that can relieve symptoms to help people live as long as possible."
Hussein Tuffaha, oncoplastic breast surgeon at Ipswich-based Suffolk Breast Practice, said if women are unsure, they should always visit their GP.
He said: "First of all, I would like to say that breast pain is a very common symptom that ladies have.
"I would like to reassure ladies that breast pain or tenderness alone is not a sign of cancer and that they should try simple pain killers and wear supportive bras and see if that helps to settle the symptoms.
"If you have a breast lump, nipple discharge from one breast, especially if it has blood, a change in the shape of the breast, retraction when lifting arms up, changes in the skin like orange peel, or a rash on the nipple that doesn’t respond to creams, then you should consult your family doctor.
"I would also say that if you are unsure, its always better to ask someone (your GP) than to just ignore it, as delaying the diagnosis can be associated with worse outcomes in certain cases."
Andrew Reid, cabinet member for public health, public protection and communities at Suffolk County Council, echoed the message regarding early detection.
He said: “Around one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, but there's a good chance of recovery if it's detected at an early stage.
"This is why it’s important that women check regularly for any changes in their breasts and always report any changes to their GP.
“The NHS offers free breast cancer screening to all women between the ages of 50 and 70, every three years. Please do attend your appointment. Early detection can save lives.”