As interior designer Kelly Hoppen reveals breast cancer diagnosis, what happens at a screening?

27 March 2023

Interior designer Kelly Hoppen, who starred in BBC show Dragons’ Den, has revealed her breast cancer diagnosis after eight years of avoiding mammograms.

The 63-year-old, who only learned last month she was “out of the woods” after being given the all-clear, said she was compelled to share her story to urge other women to never miss a screening.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Hoppen said she could not believe her “own stupidity” after ignoring routine mammogram invitations for eight years.

“It was a foolish thing to do, which is why I am writing this now: it’s a cautionary tale, a warning to others, not to be too frightened, too harried by the demands of work to go to your appointments,” she said, revealing her mother had a breast cancer scare when she was relatively young.

Hoppen credited her executive assistant and personal assistant with ensuring she finally followed through with an appointment in September.

The results eventually found Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) – meaning some cells in the lining of the ducts of the breast tissue had started to turn into cancer cells, but had not yet started to spread into the surrounding breast tissue.

According to Macmillan, DCIS is the “earliest possible form of breast cancer”, which “needs to be treated but is not life-threatening”.

Hoppen said: “[My doctor] explained that I’d been very fortunate indeed: DCIS is the very mildest form of cancer.

“It was in two milk ducts and I was booked in to have the cancer cells removed from the ducts — an awful procedure which made me feel very sore.

“I was hugely fortunate. Although I’d neglected my check-ups, I was lucky that my cancer was detected early.

“Had it not been, I might have faced a less happy outcome. Actually, I might not be here writing this cautionary tale now.”

She added there was 10 to 15% chance the cancer will return, but she vowed never to skip a mammogram again.

“I have my next one booked for September and you can be assured that I’ll be there,” she said.

According to the NHS, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK.

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 50, but younger women can also get breast cancer.

The NHS has said it is “vital” that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always have any changes examined by a GP.

In rare cases, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer.

About one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, but the NHS screening system aims to catch the disease early, which gives women a much better chance of survival. So what should happen at a screening when you’re invited to have one?

1. If you’re registered with a GP, you’ll be invited for your first screening between your 50th and 53rd birthday, although in some areas there is a trial starting from the age of 47. Over 70, you’ll stop receiving invitations, but you can still request one. If you have breast implants, you should let the staff know beforehand, because they can make a mammography less effective.

2. The X-ray, or mammogram, will be done at a specialist clinic or a mobile breast screening unit by a female practitioner. Take a partner or friend with you for support if you’re feeling anxious.

3. Before the exam, staff will ask about any breast problems you’ve had and explain the procedure. You’ll need to undress to the waist for the exam.

4. Your breasts will be X-rayed one at a time. Each breast is placed on the X-ray machine and a clear plastic plate will be gently lowered onto it, to compress and flatten the breast, which helps ensure a clear X-ray.

5. The mammographer will go behind a screen, and you’ll be asked to keep still for several seconds while two X-rays are taken of each breast – from above and from the side.

6. Some women experience pain, while many just find the process a bit uncomfortable, but it only takes a few minutes and the compression doesn’t harm the breasts. The appointment will take less than half an hour overall.

7. Some people worry about the amount of radiation used in mammograms, but it’s a low dose, similar to the amount you’d get from a couple of long haul flights.

8. Afterwards, the mammogram is checked for abnormalities and you and your GP will receive the results within two weeks.

For more information on what to do if you think you’ve been missed in the breast cancer screening error, visit Breast Cancer Care.

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