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Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to divide and grow in an abnormal way. Breast cancer is not one single disease. There are several types of breast cancer. It can be diagnosed at different stages and can grow at different rates. This means that people can have different treatments, depending on what will work best for them.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Around 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Of these about 350 are men.

The biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer are getting older, being female and, for a few, having a significant family history of the disease.

Just over 80% of breast cancers occur in women who are over the age of 50. Nearly half of all cases are diagnosed in people in the 50-69 age group.

Earlier detection, increased knowledge and understanding of the biology of breast cancer and better treatments mean that survival rates after a diagnosis of breast cancer are improving. More than 8 out of 10 people survive breast cancer beyond five years. More than three quarters of people survive it beyond 10 years. It’s thought that around 550,000 people are alive in the UK who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Facts about breast cancer

The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8 in women

This means that 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime– it also means that 7 out of 8 women won’t develop breast cancer.

Estimated risk of developing breast cancer according to age

    • Risk up to age 29, 1 in 2,000
    • Risk up to age 39, 1 in 215
    • Risk up to age 49, 1 in 50
    • Risk up to age 59, 1 in 22
    • Risk up to age 69, 1 in 13
    • Lifetime risk, 1 in 8

Both women and men get breast cancer

Although it is much rarer than in women, men can get breast cancer too. Every year about 400 men are diagnosed in the UK.

Older people are more likely to get breast cancer than younger people

After gender (being female), age is the strongest risk factor for developing breast cancer – the older the person, the higher the risk. Around 81% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50.

What is breast screening?

Breast screening (mammography) is an x-ray examination of the breasts. It may help detect breast cancer before there are any signs or symptoms. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed the more effective treatment may be.

Because breast cancer is more common in women who are over the age of 50, women aged 50 to 70 are invited for routine breast screening every three years. Also younger women’s breast tissue can be dense, which makes the mammogram image less clear so normal changes or benign (not cancer) breast conditions can be harder to identify.

The age range for the screening programme is being extended to 47-73 by the end of 2016 in England. Going for breast screening will not prevent breast cancer from developing, but it may find a breast cancer sooner – before it can be felt.

Most cases of breast cancer don’t run in the family

Most cases of breast cancer happen by chance. Only around 5% of breast cancers are caused by inheriting an altered (faulty) gene.

Because breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, it is not unusual to have one or two people in an extended family who have had breast cancer. For most people, having a relative with breast cancer does not increase their risk of developing the disease.

If you are worried about whether your family history of breast cancer might mean your own risk is increased, speak to your GP (local doctor). You may like to read our information on family history.

Breast cancer can affect women, regardless of the size of their breasts

Breast cancer can affect women with small breasts, medium breasts, large breasts – any size breasts. Breast size is irrelevant.

Finding a lump in your breast doesn’t mean you have breast cancer

There are several benign (not cancer) conditions that can occur in the breast and may cause a lump. Also many women will experience lumpy breasts just before their period. This is a normal response to changing hormones and often the lump or lumpiness disappears after the period. However, if this doesn’t go away, it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor. Any new lump should always be assessed by a doctor, regardless of your age or whether you are still having periods or not.

Breast cancer signs and symptoms

 

Cancer Awareness Useful Links

Frequently Asked Questions Courtesy of www.breastcancercare.org.uk

Do all breasts and nipples look and feel the same?

No, they don't. Breasts vary in size and shape, from very small to very large, very full or drooping.

It’s common to have one breast that’s bigger than the other and sometimes this difference is noticeable.

Breasts can feel different too, and the right breast can feel different to the left. Some women have lumpy breasts all the time, while others get lumpy breasts just before their period.

Some have tender or painful breasts once in a while, others have breast pain all the time.

Nipples look different too. They can be large or small, pale or dark in colour, stick out, lie flat on the breast or turn inwards. Women’s breasts change throughout their lives, for example when they’re pregnant, breastfeeding, gaining or losing weight, while they’re having periods and once their periods have stopped.

How do I check my breasts, and how often?

Once your breasts have developed, check them by looking and feeling. Do this regularly throughout your life. There’s no set time when to look and feel.

There’s no specific way to check. Look at your breasts and feel them with any part of your hand or fingers. For example, some people prefer to use their fingertips, others the palm of their hand. Check all parts of your breast, your armpits and up to your collarbone.

A mirror can help you look at the parts you can’t see easily. You may find body lotion or a soapy hand helps when you’re feeling your breasts.

Get to know how your breasts usually look and feel. Then you’ll notice any unusual changes and feel more confident about going to your GP to get them checked.

Men also need to be breast aware. In the UK around 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year..

When can I have breast screening?

In the UK, women aged 50 to 70 are invited for breast screening every three years as part of a national screening programme. To be invited for screening you have to be registered with a GP.

You will get your first invitation between your 50th and 53rd birthday (in England the age range for screening is being extended from 47 to 73, so your first invitation may come sooner than 50). You can contact your GP or local breast screening unit for more information.

Women over 70 (73 in England) can continue to have a routine mammogram every three years. They will need to contact their GP or local breast unit to make an appointment.

Between each screening mammogram, it’s important to continue to be breast aware and see your GP if you notice any unusual changes.

What will happen when I go for breast screening?

Breast screening involves an x-ray examination of the breasts, called a mammogram. Breast screening usually takes about half an hour.

First, you’ll be asked to complete a questionnaire. It will ask about you, any ongoing medical conditions, if you’re taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and if you’ve had any breast problems. Then the radiographer will explain what will happen and answer any questions you have.

For the mammogram you’ll need to undress down to the waist. You will stand in a set position and your breasts will be placed one at a time on the x-ray machine. The breast will be pressed down firmly on the surface by a clear plate. You will need to stay in this position while the x-ray is taken. You may find it uncomfortable but it only takes a few seconds.

The results are usually sent to you and your GP within two weeks. Sometimes the results letter may ask you to go back for further assessment (recall). It will explain the reasons why. A recall doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer but you may need more tests to find out what has shown up on the mammogram.

Can I ask for a mammogram?

You’ll only be offered a mammogram (breast x-ray) on the NHS if:

Mammograms can be done at a private hospital. If you have private medical insurance this may cover the cost of the mammogram, any other tests and follow-up with a doctor. If you’re paying for it yourself, the total cost may be expensive.

If you have any specific concerns – for example, you’ve noticed a change in one of your breasts – see your GP.

Otherwise, remain breast aware by following the Breast Cancer Care checklist:

  • Look at and feel your breasts so you know what’s normal for you.
  • Do this regularly to check for changes.
  • Tell your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything.

Why do my breasts feel tender and painful?

In the UK, women aged 50 to 70 are invited for breast screening every three years as part of a national screening programme. To be invited for screening you have to be registered with a GP.

You will get your first invitation between your 50th and 53rd birthday (in England the age range for screening is being extended from 47 to 73, so your first invitation may come sooner than 50). You can contact your GP or local breast screening unit for more information.

Women over 70 (73 in England) can continue to have a routine mammogram every three years. They will need to contact their GP or local breast unit to make an appointment.

Between each screening mammogram, it’s important to continue to be breast aware and see your GP if you notice any unusual changes.

I’ve noticed a discharge from my nipple. Should I see my doctor?

Breast screening involves an x-ray examination of the breasts, called a mammogram. Breast screening usually takes about half an hour.

First, you’ll be asked to complete a questionnaire. It will ask about you, any ongoing medical conditions, if you’re taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and if you’ve had any breast problems. Then the radiographer will explain what will happen and answer any questions you have.

For the mammogram you’ll need to undress down to the waist. You will stand in a set position and your breasts will be placed one at a time on the x-ray machine. The breast will be pressed down firmly on the surface by a clear plate. You will need to stay in this position while the x-ray is taken. You may find it uncomfortable but it only takes a few seconds.

The results are usually sent to you and your GP within two weeks. Sometimes the results letter may ask you to go back for further assessment (recall). It will explain the reasons why. A recall doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer but you may need more tests to find out what has shown up on the mammogram.

I've found a lump in my breast. Should I see my doctor?

You’ll only be offered a mammogram (breast x-ray) on the NHS if:

Mammograms can be done at a private hospital. If you have private medical insurance this may cover the cost of the mammogram, any other tests and follow-up with a doctor. If you’re paying for it yourself, the total cost may be expensive.

If you have any specific concerns – for example, you’ve noticed a change in one of your breasts – see your GP.

Otherwise, remain breast aware by following the Breast Cancer Care checklist:

  • Look at and feel your breasts so you know what’s normal for you.
  • Do this regularly to check for changes.
  • Tell your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything.

The Breast Cancer Care checklist Be Breast Aware!

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Both women and men can be affected by it, so it’s important to be breast aware. Being breast aware is part of caring for your body. It means getting to know how your breasts look and feel so you know what is normal for you. You can then feel more confident about noticing any unusual changes and reporting it to your GP (local doctor)

  • Look at and feel your breasts so you know what's normal for you.
  • Do this regularly to check for changes.
  • Tell your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything.

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