Friday, 8 Dec 2023

'No, they don't make boobs sag': One doctor's mission to make us mammogram savvy

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When Dr Nighat Arif appeared on live television to demonstrate how to check for breast cancer symptoms, some viewers were left shocked.

She had joined the This Morning sofa with Dawn Butler MP to discuss her #FindTheMissingMillion campaign, which encourages women to attend potentially life saving mammogram appointments. 

Near the end of the segment, Dr Arif raised her arm and touched her breast through the fabric of her flower patterned dress. 

A Muslim woman touching such an intimate part of her own body – and encouraging others to do the same – had rarely been seen on television before.

It’s a moment Dr Arif recalls on the latest episode of Dawn Butler Mammograms and Me, a new podcast made in collaboration with Metro.

The medical expert – who shares healthcare tips and busts cancer myths on TikTok and Instagram – says awareness within ethnic minorities has a long way to go.

‘I’ve never seen a woman with a hijab in a major breast cancer campaign,’ she tells Dawn on the podcast. ‘And it’s 2023. I’m now starting to see more black people involved, but that’s still rare. 

‘So when I was on ITV and touched my breast, I was saying look – women need to understand how this can happen to anyone.

‘I raised my arm and used my palms to feel around.

I joined MP Dawn Butler to talk about the importance of breastscreening. Why #Black & #Asian women need to attend & tackled some #myths #thismorning #drnighat #breastcancetawarness

‘I also wanted to change how we view our breasts to begin with. Boobs are hyper sexualised and it can almost feel like they’re reserved for others- for a partner or for a baby during breastfeeding. There can be this psychology where your breasts don’t really feel part of you.’

Breast cancer symptoms can range from woman to woman as a result of their ethnicity.

For example, some with darker skin may experience ‘dimpling’ – where the skin slightly indents in a situation that looks similar to stretch marks – differently.

It was only a routine mammogram that alerted Dawn to the cancer spreading through her body.

The MP – whose mum and sister both had breast cancer – had no lump or noticeable changes on her breasts.

In the podcast episode, she and Dr Arif also explore the larger than life myths they’ve heard during the course of their careers.

Can cancer travel through air particles? Nope. 

Can having a biopsy accidentally transfer breast cancer between different people? Certainly not.

Dr Arif discusses the experience of her own mum, a Punjabi-speaking Pakistani woman, who didn’t attend her first breast cancer screening.

She tells Dawn in the podcast: ‘I saw the letter on my mum’s mantlepiece and asked my mum why she hadn’t gone. 

‘She said a neighbour down the road had gone to hers and that her boobs had been “pulled”. She claimed to have been left with saggy boobs as a result.

‘My mum told me “I don’t want saggy boobs.” And I told her “that’s absolutely ridiculous, that won’t happen.”

‘But that’s how it can work. When women have a bad experience, they talk. And that talk can be exaggerated.

Mammograms and Me

Thousands of women in the UK are thought to be completely unaware they have breast cancer right now.

In a bid to reduce the startling number, MP Dawn Butler has launched the ‘Mammograms and Me’ podcast with Metro to shed light on the reality of living with breast cancer.

Over the next six weeks, with a series of special guests, she will share her own experience of a breast cancer diagnosis,  bust myths and share inspiring stories with those who haven’t just survived, but are thriving after their battle with cancer.

Interviewees include former surgeon Liz O’Riordan and actress Victoria Ekanoye.

The podcast comes after the Labour MP for Brent created the #FindTheMillion campaign with Metro to encourage women to sign up for mammograms.

‘When you have a good experience, please come back and tell your friends and community to reassure them.’

Dawn and Dr Arif also discuss the risk factors facing women – ranging from stress, smoking, genetics and weight – and what we can do to reduce them.

It’s often a busy lifestyle which means women are unaware of the true scale of breast cancer symptoms.

Dr Arif adds: ‘I think the medium of podcast is fantastic [for conveying information] as it means people can iron clothes or do chores and listen in the background. As a woman we are multitaskers. 

‘Every woman is on a journey. It begins with a young girl who starts her period, and she might go on to start taking contraceptives when she’s older. As a woman, she could start a family and begin to breastfeed. After that comes postpartum care and then she becomes older in the menopause years and – throughout this whole story – her breasts are changing. 

‘Woman are busy. They’re mothers, they’re daughters, they’ve got elderly relatives that they might be looking after. They are career women now. But even at home, there’s always something they’re looking after.

‘I often find that women never put themselves first. I’m the same.

‘I’m a mother to three boys and my youngest is five-years-old. Everything revolves around the household, then my work and then at the end of that i say “okay, now I need to focus on myself.” We, as women, need to put ourselves first more.’

The podcast – episode two in the Mammograms and Me series – is available on Apple and Spotify now.

Episode one featured Liz O’Riordan and future guests include Coronation Street actress Victoria Ekanoye and experts from within the cancer charity community. 

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