Breast cancer charity sees more than 800% increase in website visits after Sarah Harding's death

Words by Digital Producer Elisa Menendez

A national breast cancer charity has seen more than an 800% increase in people visiting its website for advice and support following the death of Sarah Harding.

The Girls Aloud singer died of breast cancer on Sunday morning at the age of 39, her mother confirmed in an Instagram post.

In the hours after news of the star's death, charity CoppaFeel! told ITV News it saw such a "huge increase" in people seeking information about the disease, that it caused their self-checkout service to temporarily crash.

Education and Health Communications Director Sophie Dopierala-Bull told ITV News: "We are all extremely sorry to hear the news about Sarah Harding and we know that many others will be saddened and some people will be worried too about their own breast health.

“We've seen a huge increase in people seeking advice and information about breast cancer, with an 842% increase in traffic to our website and nearly 500% increase in engagement with our social media channels."

Harding, who was described as "beautiful" and a "star from the get go" by grieving loved ones, went public with her diagnosis in August 2020. She revealed her breast cancer had spread to other parts of her body.

The pop star said in her memoir, Hear Me Out, that she hoped her story would encourage others to get themselves checked out - particularly those who had missed appointments or had them pushed back during the pandemic.

Harding wrote in the book: "There had been so much reporting on the news about people missing out on check-ups during COVID lockdown, even though they might be worried about something.

"People who had left a cancer diagnosis until it might be too late. Maybe if I spoke out, as a public figure, a celebrity, it could help get the message across how important it is to get checked out if you have concerns."

Research carried out by CoppaFeel! in December last year found that only around 30% of young people are checking on a monthly basis and about 50% feel confident in doing so.

"If any concerning changes were noticed however, alarmingly one in five young women would delay visiting a GP due to a fear of catching coronavirus and overall there was a concern in delays to treatment due to the pandemic," said Ms Dopierala-Bull.

“The NHS have been working tirelessly to minimise the impact and despite their busiest summer yet, are continuing to make progress on diagnostic tests, checks for cancer and cancer treatment.

“As such, at CoppaFeel! we want to urge you to be breast aware and know that NHS services are open, safe and there if you experience any concerning changes to your chest."

Increased awareness appears to also be reflected elsewhere, with website Breast Cancer Now reporting more than double its usual amount of calls to its helpline on Monday.

The charity told ITV News visits to its homepage were up 59% on Sunday, in the hours after the announcement of the singer's death.

Meanwhile views on its 'Signs and Symptoms' page increased by 176% and a 698% increase to its support for people with secondary breast cancer.

How to check for signs and symptoms Credit: CoppaFeel!

NHS England's latest figures show that strong progress is being made to tackle the mammoth backlog with around a quarter of a million people checked for cancer in June - the second highest number on record.

The data, released in mid-August, also found more than 27,000 people started treatment for cancer in the same period, marking a 42% increase on June last year.

How to look out for the signs of breast cancer:

The first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue. Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it is always best to have them checked by a doctor. Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer, but there are a number of other symptoms. The NHS website advises people to see a GP if they notice any of these symptoms:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts

  • Discharge from either nipple, which may be streaked with blood

  • A lump or swelling in either armpit

  • Dimpling on the skin of the breasts

  • A rash on or around the nipple

  • A change in the appearance of the nipple, such as becoming sunken into the breast

CoppaFeel! offer points on how to check your breasts

What are the treatments?

There are a range of different treatment options for breast cancer including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, or targeted cancer drugs.

Doctors work out the best treatment plan for each patient and sometimes this can involve a combination of different treatments.

How many people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 15% of all new cancer cases.

Across Britain there are some 55,000 new breast cancer cases every year – around 150 every day, according to Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

About one in every eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.

What are the survival odds of someone diagnosed with breast cancer?

More than three-quarters of people (76%) survive breast cancer for a decade or more after their diagnosis, CRUK figures show. But there are around 11,500 breast cancer deaths in the UK every year.

Donate to the fundraising page of the NHS Trust that treated her here.