October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, one of the most common cancers in the UK with around 1 in 8 women developing breast cancer in their lifetime,
Being aware of symptoms can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, and with that more effective treatment and improved survival rates. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50, however younger woman can also be affected; around 5600 women under the age of 45 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK. Breast cancer is possible, but very rare, in men.
Early detection is key – many breast lump and breast symptoms are not cancerous but it is always best to get your symptoms checked by a doctor.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- A lump or area in the breast that feels thicker than the rest of the breast.
- Swelling of all or part of the breast, a change in size or shape of one of the breasts.
- A lump or swelling in either of your armpits.
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk).
- Breast or nipple pain.
- A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like an orange peel).
- Redness or rash of the breast skin and/or around the nipple
- Nipple retraction (nipple is pulled inwards) or a change in appearance of the nipple.
If you are concerned a doctor can examine you and advise if you need further investigations or referral to a breast clinic.
Investigations may include the following:
Mammogram: A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast and is used to investigate symptoms as well as being offered as part of the breast screening programme to women aged 50-70 in England. In younger women, the breast tissue can be quite dense and therefore an ultrasound can be more effective.
Breast Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of breast tissue. It can be used to determine whether a lump is a fluid filled cyst or solid mass.
Other imaging studies are also used such as MRI, and often along with examination of the breasts the doctors may be able to make a diagnosis.
However, the only sure way to know if a suspicious area is cancerous is to take a sample of tissue and examine it under a microscope, called a biopsy. A biopsy is when a small sample of breast cells is taken to test if they are cancerous. Needle biopsies are the most common type using a needle to extract a sample of tissue from the breast, usually under a local anaesthetic.
Treatment of breast cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
If you have symptoms it is important to seek advice from your doctor. Early recognition and detection of breast cancer increases the chance of treatment before it spreads, leading to more successful outcomes and survival rates.