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CoppaFeel: Know the symptoms of breast cancer

Kristin Hallenga, 33, was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer aged 23. She is the founder of CoppaFeel, a charity which aims to raise awareness of the disease among young people and encourage them to check their breasts regularly.

Statistics from charity Breast Cancer Care have found that more than 80 per cent of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60.

Around 2,200 women in the UK are diagnosed aged 39 or under, or just four per cent of all cases.

While the chances are low, being diagnosed in your twenties can happen, so it is important that you know how to check your breasts and what signs to look out for. It is never too early to know what is right for your body so you know when something is wrong.

Kris’s story

Kris Hallenga lives in Cornwall and was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer ten years ago.

“What happens at 23? Well, if you’re lucky, seeing a bit of the world, brunching with mates and a whole load of carefree fun.

“And if you’re less lucky? Breast cancer.

“I still remember everything about that day — February 19, 2009. What I wore, what was said, how I felt… a bit hungover from the night before, actually.

“To be honest, I thought nothing of the appointment. When we got to the hospital, Mum couldn’t find a parking space, so I went to my appointment while she kept looking.

“I was baffled when the nurse asked me if I was on my own. But now, of course, I know why.

“Despite these weird moments, I would never have guessed I was about to be told I had breast cancer. Mum eventually joined us, where she found a very upset daughter who had been told the worst possible news.

“How I felt in that moment is still so hard to describe.

“I couldn’t take in anything the doctor was saying, other than him telling me I would be having my breast removed very soon and I needed further scans to check it hadn’t spread.

“Within a week, my worst fears came true. It had spread to my spine.”

Breast cancer treatment

“I’ve done my own research to know what is best for me — and that includes having an integrative approach to my treatment.

“Since then, I have had my left boob removed, as well as undergoing chemotherapy and various bouts of radiotherapy.

“Last year, I needed some very targeted radiotherapy to my brain, which had managed to sprout several tiny brain tumours.

“Each year, just 30 women under the age of 24 are diagnosed with breast cancer.”


Kristin and her twin sister Maren founded CoppaFeel! in 2009.

Kris had been living abroad in China for eight months before being told the news that she had incurable breast cancer aged 23.

She was unaware that breast cancer could affect people in their twenties and knew very little about the disease.

It struck her that there was very little information out there for young people, educating them about the disease, how they could be looking after themselves and informing them that breast cancer doesn’t just affect women over 50.

Although Kris will always live with cancer, she wanted to get the message out there to young people that catching cancer early means you have a higher chance of surviving and recovering.

She wants people to learn from her story and become pro-active about their own health. The idea for CoppaFeel! was born.

Watch the BBC Documentary

Coppafeel’s mission

To ensure all breast cancers are diagnosed early and correctly by:

  • Encouraging you to check your boobs and pecs regularly from a young age
  • Educating you on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer
  • Empowering you to seek advice from a doctor if symptoms persist

The symptoms

The statistics

  • Younger women aged 18 to 24 consistently check their boobs less than those who are 25 to 29 years old
  • Only 30 per cent of women aged 18 to 29 check their boobs monthly
  • One third of women would immediately visit their doctor upon discovering early signs and symptoms
  • Half of young women are confident to start checking their boobs

In the UK

  • 1 in 8 women will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetime
  • Around 400 men are diagnosed every year
  • Breast cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women under 40*
  • Every year in the UK, around 5,000 women under the age of 45 are diagnosed with breast cancer*
*Statistics from Breast Cancer Care

For more stories on health and wellbeing, click here.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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