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.
It’s incredibly important for women to regularly check their breasts for any lumps or significant changes, because if detected early, the chance of making a full recovery is incredibly high.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
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.
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
How to Check for Lumps
Look in the mirror, with your hands on your hips and shoulders straight, for any changes to your breasts.
Raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Check for any signs of fluid coming out of your nipples.
Feel your breast in a circular motion while you lie down. Keep your fingers flat and together, and press firmly.
Repeat step 4 while standing up.
Causes of Breast Cancer
There isn’t an exact known reason for why people develop breast 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
Oestrogen can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, which is why your risk increases if you take the combined birth control pill. Being overweight or obese also causes an increase in your production of oestrogen.
Preventing Breast Cancer
Though it’s not possible to prevent breast cancer with 100% certainty, there are things you can do to lower your risk. These include:
- Exercise often / stay active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Reduce your intake of saturated fat
Breast Cancer Screening
All women between the ages of 50 and 71 are automatically invited for a breast cancer screening every 3 years.
Women over the age of 71 can still get their breasts screened every three years by contacting their local breast screening service!
Types of Breast Cancer
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 form of breast cancer, this is where the cancer has spread from the breast ducts to the surrounding tissue.
Other, less common, types of breast cancer include:
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Paget’s disease of the breast
- Invasive / pre-invasive lobular breast cancer
Breast Cancer Treatments
If you have received a breast cancer diagnosis, you will be referred to a multidisciplinary team (MDT). Your team will decide which treatment is suitable for you and your condition.
The possible treatments for breast cancer include:
- hormone therapy
- targeted therapy
Each of your options will be discussed with you to ensure you understand what the risks are and why they are being recommended.
You can go to Predict to help you understand how you may be affected by treatments for invasive breast cancer.
Breast Cancer in Men
While cases are rare, men can also develop breast cancer.
The cancer develops in the small amount of breast tissue behind the nipple, and is usually developed by men over the age of 60 (though it can affect younger men).
Symptoms can include:
- 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.
Living with Breast Cancer
It’s important to understand that living with breast cancer affects each person in different ways, both mentally and physically.
Speaking about your situation with family and friends can be a powerful tool, or if you’d prefer, find a support group of people in the same situation as you.
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