Breast Cancer: All you need to know

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK.

Each year about 48,000 women get breast cancer in Britain, with most (eight out of 10) being over 50 but younger women, and in rare cases men, can also get breast cancer.

The first symptom of breast cancer most women notice is a lump or an area of thickened tissue in their breast.

Although 90% of lumps are not cancerous, advice is to visit your doctor if you find one.

You should also see your GP if you notice any of the following:

  • a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • discharge from either nipple (which may be streaked with blood)
  • 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 not related to your period

The Causes of Breast Cancer

As with most cancers the causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, making it is difficult to say why different woman develop breast cancer and others don't.

Some things, known as risk factors, can change the likelihood that someone may develop breast cancer, some you cannot do anything about and others, you can.

Factors like age, a family history of the disease and being overweight can all be causes of breast cancer.

For more information on the causes of the disease you can go to the NHS website.

Screening for Breast Cancer

Women aged between 50 and 70, and who are registered with a GP, are automatically invited for a breast screening every three years.

Each year 1.6million women receive a check through the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

Women are first invited for screening between your 50th and 53rd birthday.

Women over the age of 70 are still eligible to be screened and can arrange this through their GP or local screening unit.

In England, the NHS have extended the breast screening age range to allow all women aged between 47 and 73 to be checked.

Treatment of Breast Cancer

People with cancer will be cared for by a team of doctors and nurses with different specialities.

The team usually consists of a specialist cancer surgeon, an oncologist (a radiotherapy and chemotherapy specialist), a radiologist, a pathologist, a radiographer, a reconstructive surgeon and a specialist nurse.

Sometimes the team may also include a physiotherapist, a dietitian and an occupational therapist.

When deciding what treatment is best for you, your doctors will consider:

  • the stage and grade of your cancer (how big it is and how far it has spread)
  • your general health
  • whether you have been through the menopause

You can discuss your treatment with your care team at any time and ask any questions.

The main treatments for breast cancer are:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • biological therapy (targeted therapy)

The type of treatment, or the combination of treatments, will depend on how the cancer was diagnosed and the stage it is at.

Breast cancer diagnosed at screening may be at an early stage, but breast cancer diagnosed when you have symptoms may be at a later stage and require a different treatment.

Your healthcare team will discuss with you which treatments are most suitable.

For more information on breast cancer, its treatments and the support available for women how are worried about cancer or who are currently suffering with the disease, you can visit the websites below: