Breast Cancer Awareness
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with it in their lifetime. It is mostly found in women over the age of 50, but can affect younger women as well as men.
A great deal of research has gone into treating breast cancer. So much so that, if detected early, the chances of making a full recovery is incredibly high. However, because an early diagnosis gives you the best chancer, it’s important for women to regularly check their breasts for any changes so that they can be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.
As a general rule, if there are any changes to your breast, let your doctor know. It may be nothing, but it’s best to be safe as there are a number of ways breast cancer can present itself. The first symptom that most tend to notice however is a lump, or an area of thickened breast tissue. Lumps are rarely ever breast cancer, and are usually simply non-cancerous tissue growth or breast cysts, but you should still get it checked by a doctor immediately if you find one.
You should also see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Changes in the size or shape of your breast
- Lump or swelling in either armpit
- Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- Discharge from a nipple
- A rash on or around your nipple
- Any changes in the appearance of your nipples
Breast pain / sore breasts aren’t usually symptoms of breast cancer, and are more likely to do with other factors such as hormonal changes. But you should still speak to your doctor if you are concerned, or if the pain is severe.
How to check for breast lumps
Step 1: Look in the mirror, with your hands on your hips and shoulders straight, for any changes to your breasts
Step 2: Raise your arms and look for the same changes
Step 3: Check for any signs of fluid coming out of your nipples
Step 4: Feel your breast in a circular motion while you lie down. Keep your fingers flat and together, and press firmly. Cover each breast fully
Step 5: Stand/sit up and repeat step 4
There isn’t an exact known reason for why people develop cancer, but there are factors that can increase your risk. These include:
- Family history of breast cancer
- Previously having breast cancer
- Having had a benign breast lump
- Drinking alcohol
- Being tall
- Being overweight or obese
Because it’s not entirely clear why breast cancer is caused, there aren’t certain ways to prevent it. You can however do certain things to lower your risk. These include:
- Exercise often / stay active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Reduce your intake of saturated fat
Oestrogen can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, which is why your risk increases if you were to take the combined birth control pill. Being overweight or obese also causes an increase in your production of oestrogen.
The most common way of finding changes in your breast at an early stage is an x-ray called a mammogram, or mammographic screening. There are unfortunately some risks that come with a mammogram. One of them being that it can detect cancers that wouldn’t have developed further or become life threatening, causing you to potentially have to undergo unnecessary further testing or treatments. There is research being done into a new way to be able to identify which breast cancers will be life threatening and which won’t.
It is however considered that at the moment, the benefits outweigh the risk due to the fact that its ability to detect cancer early significantly increases the chances of recovery. It also reduces the likelihood that you will need treatment like a mastectomy or chemotherapy.
All women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited for a breast cancer screening every 3 years. But there is a trial to extend the age, and you are entitled to request a screening if you are over the age of 70.
There are a few types of breast cancer that develop in different areas of the breast. The two most common types are invasive and non-invasive.
Non-invasive breast cancer: This type of cancer is contained in the breast ducts, and hasn’t spread out to the breast tissue. With this, there is rarely a lump and it is usually found through a mammogram.
Invasive breast cancer: The most common type of breast cancer; this is when the cancer spreads from the ducts to the surrounding breast tissue.
Other, less common, types of breast cancer include:
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Paget’s disease of the breast
- Invasive / non-invasive lobular breast cancer
Breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body, usually via the blood or lymph nodes. This is known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer.
If you have received a breast cancer diagnosis, you will be referred to an MDT (multidisciplinary) team who will decide on what treatment is suitable to you and your condition. Depending on the type of cancer, stage, and other factors such as your overall health and health, you may receive one treatment or a combination of a few. Each of your options will be discussed with you to ensure you understand what the risks are and why they are being recommended.
The possible treatments for breast cancer include:
- hormone therapy
- targeted therapy
Breast cancer treatment most commonly starts with surgery, usually followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
No matter what type of treatment you have started, agreed to or only discussed, you should speak to your healthcare provider at any point if you have any questions or concerns.
You can go to Predict to help you understand how you may be affected by treatments for invasive breast cancer.
It’s important to understand that living with breast cancer affects each person in different ways, both mentally and physically. It’s entirely on a case by case basis, and so you shouldn’t expect that your experience will be the same as another’s. It is best to go with how you feel, what your health care providers recommend, and your lifestyle.
There are some things to consider when thinking about how your life could be affected by breast cancer. These include the mental effects of receiving the diagnosis, side effects and recovery from treatments like surgery and chemotherapy, financial decisions as well as the potential affects on things that you may not think of at first, like your sex life and relationships. While this can seem a bit overwhelming, please remember that as a result of breast cancer being as common as it is, there is an endless amount of support out there for you. You can speak to friends and family about what you’re going through, but you can also speak to people in the same position as you in support groups, and healthcare providers that are experts.
While rare, men can also develop breast cancer. The cancer would develop in the small amount of breast tissue behind the nipples. In most cases, men that develop breast cancers are over the age of 60, however it can affect younger men as well.
The symptoms that develop would be mostly regarding the nipple area:
- nipple turning inwards
- hardness, swelling or redness on or around the nipple
- persistent soreness or rash around the nipple
- nipple discharge (oozing fluid)
- swollen glands in the armpit (small bumps)
- lump in the breast - usually doesn’t move or hurt
If you experience any of the symptoms above, or if there is a history of breast cancer in your family, speak to your GP.
Always remember that no matter whether or not you think you have a reason for concern, you can always speak to a medical professional about any of these topics. Contact your GP, see your pharmacist, or go to 111.nhs.uk
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