RITA Ora has revealed she had a breast cancer scare — and is urging women to get screened in the wake of the pandemic.
The 30-year-old star — whose mum was diagnosed with it in 2005 — spoke for the first time about her experiences with the illness.
She said she had a genome test to see if she was a carrier.
The singer said she experienced symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and suffered crippling panic attacks as she struggled to support her beloved mother, Vera, as a teen.
Backing our Get Checked campaign, Rita said: “I see these things saying check yourself for lumps but my mother didn’t have a lump she had a sharp pain, and she still went and got checked.
“I have done the BRCA test (the hereditary breast cancer test) and the gene test myself and, luckily, I don’t have the gene.
“But I still check myself regularly. Genetically, there was no history of breast cancer in my family before my mother, but she still got it.
“There are loads of tutorials online which I have used. You have to be aware of your body.
“But you can also call your GP to ask. There are loads of ways of accessing the information.
“Scans in the UK have dropped eighty per cent since Covid struck, and a million women haven’t had any check-ups.
“The backlog of cancer treatment is crazy. And some people are too afraid to go to hospital, which is totally understandable, but you have to go and get checked.”
The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
Some people are afraid to go, but you have to get checked
Rita Ora on breast cancer checks
If a woman has inherited a mutated copy of either gene from a parent, they have a higher risk of breast cancer.
On average, a woman with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation has up to a 70 per cent chance of getting breast cancer by the age of 80.
Vera, 56, a psychiatrist with the NHS, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease, and after chemotherapy and radiation, had a partial mastectomy. Rita admits she spent much of her twenties worrying she would be diagnosed with breast cancer.
As a result, she works on “mindfulness” and wellbeing exercises to help arrest any panic attacks — and still practises regular cognitive behavioural therapy in a bid to manage it.
Asked if she had been to her doctor after experiencing a sharp pain in her breast, she replied: “In the sense of urgency. Considering all of the patients in the world, if you can self-prevent it is the first stage. I don’t know if it’s in my head, but it can be a case of a little heartburn and I am like, ‘What is that?’.”
Rita hopes that by speaking out today, women will be encouraged to attend routine appointments.
Her call comes after NHS England statistics following the first lockdown showed there were only 7,130 urgent breast cancer referrals during April and May — compared with 32,555 for the same months last year. In September, charity Breast Cancer Now showed almost a million women in the UK had missed potentially lifesaving NHS breast screening due to Covid-19.
While the screening programme has started up again, the availability of appointments has been greatly reduced due to social distancing restrictions.
Survival rates are much higher if the disease is diagnosed and treated early.
While breast cancer is relatively rare in women under 40, Rita’s decision to speak out comes four months after Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, who is only 39, bravely revealed she had breast cancer — adding that it had spread to other parts of her body.
Six-times Brit award nominee Rita also spoke about the pressures of caring for a sick family member.
The Kosovo-born performer, who moved to London as a baby, said: “Cancer affects everyone. My mum battled it twice, and I had a lot of different emotions. I felt a lot of responsibility to step up and become a strong teenager. I wanted to protect my mother.
“Even now, every time my mother has to have a check-up we get reminded of all those feelings of waiting for the result, and the fear factor of it all. Everyone has a way of dealing with their thoughts, and I am a big believer in therapy — certainly it has helped me a lot.
“I also exercise and meditate to try and keep my panic in check.
“My meditation teacher taught me something that always stays with me. It’s five little words: ‘You Are Not Your Thoughts’.
“It is very simple but it is something I have always thought about if I ever get into a state of worry. I repeat it to myself.”
On the subject of previous panic attacks she added: “They’re such a hard experience to explain.
“Growing up when I was younger I didn’t know what a panic attack was. I don’t think a lot of teenagers realise what they are. You can’t breathe, your chest feels tight, you lose your vision — you go into a wormhole and this comes from personal experiences.
“I found music is a healer and I think I’ve gone through a lot to make sure I don’t get to that phase of feeling like I can’t breathe again.
“Aromatherapy, therapy in general, exercise, meditation and getting checked, giving yourself the peace of mind — these all help me stay calm now.”
Doubtless therapy has helped Rita over the past few weeks.
She was widely condemned for breaking lockdown rules, hosting a lavish 30th birthday bash for friends including Cara and Poppy Delevingne at a restaurant in West London last month.
Police were called but the gang avoided detection, leaving separately in taxis after the event.
After pictures were published in The Sun, it then emerged that Rita had breached guidelines for a second time after travelling to Egypt for a corporate gig and failing to quarantine afterwards.
She has since volunteered to pay the maximum £10,000 fine for breaking government regulations, donated her performance fee to charity, and issued two grovelling apologies. In her second statement, the Fifty Shades of Grey actress said she wanted “to one day make it up to the public who have given me so much support over the years and, in particular, make it up to the heroes of the NHS”.
By speaking out now Rita hopes to go some way to doing this.
Chatting over Zoom from Bulgaria where she has been working, she added: “My apology was so sincere, and so from my heart.
“I can only hope and pray that everyone sees that, and accepts that. Regardless of what has happened, I want my name on something like this because I know the importance of it. We’re so lucky to have the NHS, it is so incredible — we must never take it for granted.
“Health doesn’t stop because a global pandemic is going on; you can save your life by going to appointments.”
Breast Cancer Now is backing our campaign. Its head of Public Health and Wellbeing Manveet Basra said: “Our recent research revealed 47 per cent of women in the UK do not check their breasts regularly.
“Rita is playing a hugely important role in raising awareness of the importance of breast checking.”
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