Women, young and old, should practise breast awareness. This involves getting to know what is normal for your breasts in terms of look and texture, so you can spot any changes and get them checked out as soon as possible.
In particular, you should look for:
Remember, most lumps are harmless, especially if you’re young. But you should still get them checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
For a more in-depth look at what it means to be breast aware, take a look at our Breast awareness feature.
The exact causes of breast cancer aren’t yet know, but certain risk factors have been identified. They are:
- lumps or thickening of the tissue
- discharge from the nipple
- unusual appearance or sensation
- ‘tethering’ of the skin, as if being pulled from the inside
There have also been suggestions that taking the oral contraceptive pill slightly increases your risk of breast cancer.
A genetic link
Fewer than one in 20 cases of breast cancer are inherited. About one person in 1,000 carries the genes responsible. If a relative has breast cancer it may just be chance. However, you should be more wary if:
- Getting older – 80 per cent of breast cancer cases are in post-menopausal women.
- Having no children or children late in life.
- Starting your periods early or the menopause late.
- Taking HRT.
- A significant family history of breast cancer.
It may be worth completing a family health history chart to help you work out patterns of disease that run in your family.
If you’re worried, talk to your GP. You may want to think about genetic screening.
For more information about the genetic link, see Dr Trisha Macnair’s article on the inherited risks of breast cancer.
To find out more about breast cancers caused by specific genetic mutations, take a look at Gene stories.
In order to make an accurate diagnosis of breast cancer, doctors must do a thorough examination. This might include a chest x-ray and blood tests. They’ll also need to take a careful look at the lump itself, possibly using an ultrasound, mammogram, needle aspiration and/or needle biopsy. In some cases, more complex tests such as liver or bone scans may be necessary.
Some hospitals run ‘one-stop shops’ for breast lumps. These are clinics where all examinations can be done on the spot, with the results coming through the same day. You can usually leave with a diagnosis.
There is no quick cure for breast cancer – if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, be extremely sceptical. From the growth of the first abnormal cell to the end of treatment, breast cancer is a long hard road. Roll your mouse over the pictures to see how long each stage takes.
Once a lump is found, rapid diagnosis and treatment is imperative. Three-quarters of breast cancers are detected by women or their partners, but 20 to 30 per cent of these women wait three months or longer before seeing a doctor. This delay can be critical: studies have found that those who wait more than three months before seeking treatment are less likely to be alive five years later than those who seek help immediately (survival rates among the group who delay are as much as 12 per cent lower).
Until recently, the gap between referral by a GP and a hospital visit was often more than three months, which was clearly not good enough. In April 1999, the Government ordered that all patients suspected of having breast cancer must be seen by a hospital specialist within two weeks of an urgent referral by their GP.
Once diagnosis is confirmed, the exact treatment used, how soon it’s given and how long it takes all depends on several factors including:
- Your relative was diagnosed under the age of 40.
- You have a first-degree relative with cancer in both breasts.
- You have a male relative with breast cancer.
- You have two first- or second-degree relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with breast cancer under 60, or with ovarian cancer.
- You have three first- or second-degree relatives diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer at any age.
Doctors treating breast cancer have a number of options to offer to their patients. Surgery to remove either the lump or the breast (mastectomy) is almost always recommended, followed by an ‘adjuvant’ therapy (this could be a combination of radiotherapy, chemotherapy or tamoxifen) to kill off any stray cancer cells. Patients should also be offered supportive therapies, such as counselling.
It’s difficult to pronounce breast cancer cured because secondary breast cancer can appear ten or 20 years later after tiny cells lying dormant in the liver, bones or elsewhere become active. However, if breast cancer is going to come back it usually does so within the first two years, and after five years without disease the chances of a recurrence are very small.
- the stage of the tumour (how much it has spread)
- the type of breast cancer
- whether the patient has passed the menopause
- whether there are any secondary cancers
- the woman’s own wishes
Breast Cancer News:
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Drug Stops Bone Loss From Breast Cancer Chemo (HealthDay via Yahoo! News) – THURSDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) — Zometa (zoledronic acid) prevented bone loss at 12 months in premenopausal women undergoing chemotherapy after they had surgery for early stage breast cancer, a new study found.
Osteo Drug Stops Bone Loss From Breast Cancer Chemo (HealthDay via Yahoo! News) – THURSDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) — The osteoporosis drug Zometa (zoledronic acid) prevented bone loss at 12 months in premenopausal women undergoing chemotherapy after they had surgery for early stage breast cancer, a new study found.
Positive Thinking May Protect Against Breast Cancer (Science Daily) – Feelings of happiness and optimism play a positive role against breast cancer. New research suggests that while staying positive has a protective role, adverse life events such as the loss of a parent or close relative, divorce or the loss of a spouse can increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease.
Happiness ‘can protect against breast cancer’, research shows (Daily Mail: World News) – Having a positive outlook on life could cut the risk of breast cancer by 25 per cent, research shows. A study found women who were happy were less likely to have developed the disease.
Positive thinking may protect against breast cancer (EurekAlert!) – ( BioMed Central ) Feelings of happiness and optimism play a positive role against breast cancer. Research published today in the open access journal BMC Cancer suggests that while staying positive has a protective role, adverse life events such as the loss of a parent or close relative, divorce or the loss of a spouse can increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease.
Tough decisions on breast cancer (Baltimore Sun) – C hristina Applegate is young, beautiful, famous and stunningly candid about her decision to have both breasts removed rather than live in dread that her breast cancer would return.
Pa. girl plans breast cancer fundraiser for 13th birthday (The Herald-Mail) – Emily Hanlin turns 13 on Aug. 29 and despite her young age, she is planning a fundraiser for the National Breast Cancer Foundation instead of having a party with presents.
Currently Druggable in Breast Cancer: A Drug Target Competitive Analysis (Centre Daily Times) – Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/85afc4/currently_druggabl) has announced the addition of the “Currently Druggable in Breast Cancer: A Drug Target Competitive Analysis” report to their offering.
Volo malls sponsor raffle for Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois (Lake County Journals) – VOLO ? The malls at Volo Country Village are sponsoring a raffle to raise money for Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois, which is an organization that focuses on making sure that no one faces breast cancer alone.
High-risk women act fast on breast cancer (The Desert Sun) – Christina Applegate’s choice to undergo a double mastectomy puts her in the company of a growing number of women taking aggressive steps to avoid dying of breast cancer.
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