Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. About 46,000 women get breast cancer in the UK each year. Most of them (8 out of 10) are over 50, but younger women, and in rare cases men, can also get breast cancer.
The first symptom of breast cancer noticed is usually a lump or an area of thickened tissue. Most lumps (90%) are not cancerous, but it is always best to have them checked by your doctor.
See your GP if you notice any of the following:
• a lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast
• a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
• discharge from a nipple
• a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
• dimpling on the skin of your breasts
• a rash on or around your nipple
• a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
• pain in either of your breasts or armpits that is not related to your period
So that you can pick up any changes as soon as possible, it is important to be ‘breast aware’. Get to know what is normal for you so that you can easily spot any potential problems.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme screens around 1.6 million women a year. Women aged 50 to 70, who are registered with a GP, are automatically invited for screening every three years. Women over the age of 70 are still eligible to be screened and can arrange this through their GP or local screening unit. The NHS is extending the breast screening age range in England so that by the end of 2012, all women aged 47 to 73 will be invited. You may be eligible for screening at a younger age if breast cancer runs in your family.
Screening is carried out by female staff, who take mammograms (x-rays) to detect abnormalities. The aim is to find breast cancer at an early stage, when any changes in the breast would be too small to feel and when there is a good chance of successful treatment and full recovery. It is estimated that screening saves 1,400 lives a year.
About one woman in 20 will be called back for further assessment. Being called back does not mean you definitely have cancer. The first mammogram may have been unclear. About one in six women who are called back for further assessment are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Not all cancers are found during breast screening. Breast cancer can develop between screening appointments. Even if you go to breast screening, it is important to get to know your breasts so that you can spot any unusual changes early on and report them to your GP.
If you have suspected breast cancer you will be referred to a specialist breast cancer clinic for further tests. A biopsy involves taking a sample of tissue cells from your breast and testing them to see if they are cancerous. You may also need to have a scan and a needle test on the lymph nodes in your armpit to see if these are also affected.
If you need treatment for an abnormality in the breast, decisions about your care and treatment would be made by the breast multi-disciplinary team consisting of surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, oncologists and breast care nurses. Ladies diagnosed with a breast cancer would be referred to and supported by our team of breast care nurses who are able to help make treatment decisions when necessary and provide information and support throughout diagnosis and treatment. You can discuss your treatment with your care team at any time and ask any questions.
The main treatments for breast cancer are:
• hormone therapy
• biological therapy (targeted therapy)
You may have one of these treatments or a combination.
For information about living with breast cancer go to: www.breastcancercare.org.uk