Dr Hilary Jones gives us the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about breast cancer.
1. What are the common signs of breast cancer?
- A breast lump
- Change of shape to the breast, including dimpling of the skin
- In-drawing of the nipple
- Change in the skin over the breast
- Changes to the surface of the nipple, including eczema or scaling
- Pain in the breast
- Swelling and inflammation
- Discharge from the nipple
- Swelling under the arm
2. Who gets breast screening and when?
All women aged 50-69 are offered screening on the NHS every 3 years. Women over 69 can still have free screening if they request it.
3. Why aren’t mammograms done at a younger age?
There are 2 main reasons:
- The breast cancer incidence increases with age, and therefore there are more cancers in older women.
- Secondly, cancers are much easier to see on mammograms in older women, as younger women have much denser breast tissue.
4. What if an abnormality is found?
Breast screening may find changes which are not serious, but you still need those extra tests to be sure that these are benign and not cancerous. A little anxiety may be caused if you’re recalled for another test, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
5. How can I reduce my risk?
Eat a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and veg. Take regular exercise. Don’t smoke. Drink alcohol in moderation. Keep a normal weight and be breast aware, reporting any changes to your doctor immediately.
6. What if I have a family history?
Less than 1 in 10 women who develop breast cancer have inherited a genetic abnormality. If you have any family members who have breast cancer at a relatively young age, talk to your doctor about genetic screening.
7. What is my risk at the age of 40?
Your risk of breast cancer is 1 in 200. At 85 it’s 1 in 10, but at age 25 it’s 1 in 15,000. That is why breast screening is carried out when it is, but why everybody should always be breast aware.