With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, London Doctors Clinic shares what you need to know:
Breast Cancer Awareness
Breast cancer is in fact the most common cancer affecting women in the UK. Like any cancer, breast malignancies forms because of cells in the body (in this case, in the breast tissue) dividing uncontrollably and forming a cancerous mass, called a tumour.
Breast Cancer Statistics
There are many different types of breast cancer. At the moment, it is thought that 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point. However, it’s also important to remember that about 85% of people survive breast cancer for more than 5 years – if detected early, the prognosis is often good.
Breast cancer can sometimes spread (metastasise) to other areas of the body via the blood stream or lymphatic system, and, if it does spread, it commonly does so to the lung, liver and bones.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
There are 3 main risk factors for breast cancer:
- Female gender
- Women are more likely to acquire it than men, although note that this cancer can affect both genders and about 340 men are diagnosed with it each year.
- An increased age puts one more at risk of acquiring breast cancer
- Family history
- This will also increase your chances of developing breast cancer
Other risk factors include:
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Use of hormone treatments, such as:
- The combined contraceptive pill
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
BRCA Genes and Breast Cancer
Around 5-10% of breast cancer cases are caused by inherited genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. This is why a family history of cancer is an important risk factor for us to take into account when assessing your risk – if you have inherited one of these genes from a family member, you are advised to have more regular breast cancer screening.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Often a lump in the breast can be one of the first symptoms of breast cancer, although other important signs to be aware of include:
- Change in breast size/shape
- Nipple discharge
- Newly inverted nipple
- Lump in the armpit
- Skin changes over the breast or nipple
It is important to note that breast pain is not a common feature of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Screening
Since detecting breast cancer early can help improve prognosis, it is very important to check yourself using a breast self-exam. 1 in 7 women from the ages of 50-70 don’t check their breasts outside their mammogram appointments, and this needs to change! The breast self-exam is simple and can be conducted in 5 steps:
- Look at your breasts in the mirror
- Your arms should be on your hips
- Inspect the size and shape of your breasts to check they are not unusually asymmetrical
- If you notice dimpling of the skin, an inverted nipple or any skin changes contact your GP
- Raise your arms and look again for the changes mentioned above
- Look for any discharge from your nipples
- Lie down on your back and feel your breasts
- When feeling the breast, use all your fingers, pressing relatively firmly and smoothly on the area of tissue
- Make sure you inspect your entire breast from top to bottom and side to side, and use a circular motion when feeling for lumps
- If you can feel a lump when examining yourself, contact your GP
- Examine your breast whilst in the sitting position, in the same way as mentioned in point 4)
The first position of the breast self-exam involves putting your hands on your hips, then raising the arms, then lying down, while checking the whole of the breast plus the armpit
Breast Cancer Investigation
We offer BRCA1/2 genetic testing for anyone wanting to use this service privately through us instead of the NHS. Our GPs can also do general breast exams for anyone concerned about potential breast cancer symptoms.
We can then arrange private specialist referrals for further ultrasounds, mammograms and other specialist investigations if necessary. Mammograms (x-rays of the breast) are the most commonly used imaging technique for detecting breast cancer. If you think you’re at a higher risk of developing breast cancer because of any of the risk factors mentioned above, it is advisable for you to discuss this with your GP so that they can assess whether any further investigations are required.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast tissue, used to detect lumps in the breast suspicious for breast cancer
Breast Cancer Treatment
Treatment of breast cancer may involve chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy or surgery.
As mentioned before, if detected early, breast cancer can often be treated before it spreading to other parts of the body.
If you’re living with breast cancer, there are many support agencies available, either within the hospital or through charities that are there to guide you through the treatment process and provide a helping hand. The most important thing to take away from this is to regularly examine yourself for any breast changes– this cannot be stressed enough! If you have any concerns about breast cancer you can book an appointment with one of our affordable Private GPs who will be able to discuss this with you at any London Clinic of our 8 locations, including our new Fleet Street clinic.
By Vivekka Nagendran