Media Release

Marilyn scoops award while tackling taboo subject

An Assistant Practitioner in Breast Screening is tackling a taboo subject which affects 1 in 5 women and has also scooped an award in the process.

Marilyn O’Connell was determined to tackle the topic of Under-breast Soreness after seeing so many women who pass through the QEH Breast Screening Unit who experience this condition, which usually starts as a sweat rash.

Thousands of women will no longer have to suffer in silence with this uncomfortable and unpleasant rash underneath their breasts thanks to Mrs O’Connell’s research and leaflet, which has been picked up by several other Breast Screening Units and Health Authorities throughout the country.

Mrs O’Connell, who works in the new West Norfolk Breast Care Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, will be heading off to the House of Commons in November to pick up her Radiographer of the Year (Eastern Region) award after being named by the Society of Radiographers.

Mrs O’Connell, who lives in King’s Lynn, said: “I couldn’t believe I had won the award but the main thing for me is raising awareness of this issue and getting a better understanding of it out there.

“For many women this is a taboo subject and I want to change that.  Some women get depressed about it, some feel dirty and one or two have asked if it is the start of breast cancer. I have heard of women who use sanitary towels amongst other things under their breasts to protect this very sore area.

“We see cases of the rash among women within our unit who attend for screening.  In some cases, the rash is so sore that the process of having a mammogram can break the skin.  This can be problematic when we are trying to x-ray the entire breast area.

“There are commonly available products out there that can make a big difference to not only the under-breast area but also to the woman’s wellbeing.  I see this as a holistic approach.”

The problem, which usually affects women with larger breasts or who are sporty, can be caused by sweat rash, skin to skin rubbing and the growth of yeast in the skin folds.  This is more commonly known as Intertrigo.

Mrs O’Connell and the team at the QEH Breast Screening Unit completed an eight week research study on the topic in January and February of this year.

The results showed that up to 55 per cent of the 1,643 women who completed a questionnaire had never heard of Under-breast Soreness (Intertrigo) and over 90 per cent had never seen any information on it.

Of the 20 per cent of women who had experienced the condition only 7 per cent had sought medical advice from a healthcare professional. Only 22% knew what caused it and 12 per cent had never discussed it with anyone else.

During the study, women stated that the condition had left them feeling dirty, embarrassed, depressed and degraded.

Effective treatments for the condition include washing twice a day, patting the affected area dry and wearing good supportive bras.  Over the counter products which help treat fungal infections include anti-fungal creams and powders and hydrocortisone creams, depending on severity.  Barrier creams may also help to stop an infection returning.  If none of these treatments help, it is advisable to seek advice from your doctor.

New policies and procedures have been put in place at the QEH Breast Screening Unit to help women experiencing this problem in which to give a better patient experience.

Mrs O’Connell also spoke about her research at a Symposium in Liverpool in July and the success of her leaflet is being rolled out across parts of Wales, Swindon, Leicester and Yorkshire.

Mrs O’Connell, who joined the hospital in 2007, said: “I’m hoping that this will give women permission to go out there and try different products to see which works for them”.

“The study was a team effort and the girls here have really got on board and it has changed our practice and I hope it will help other areas of the country too!

“I feel we have only scratched the surface on this topic and feel more research is needed on the subject.”

Chief Executive Dorothy Hosein has praised Mrs O’Connell for tackling a subject which had been taboo for some patients.

She said: “Marilyn is a tremendous credit to the hospital and her work is making a huge difference to the lives of so many women in West Norfolk and beyond.  Her dedication in tackling a study has already had an impact on how we treat Under-breast Soreness at the QEH.

“Our new Breast Unit has also transformed the treatment of our patients.  They are now seen in a beautiful building and if there is bad news, it is broken in a dedicated counselling room.”


 Pictured are: Marilyn O’Connell with colleagues Alex Aves, Nicki Ward and Linda Mallett in the new Breast Unit

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