As the halfway mark for Breast Cancer Awareness month passes, we thought a once-around what we should all be looking for was in order. Breast Cancer Care’s clinical director, Dr Emma Pennery, was happy to oblige.
A specialist breast care nurse for more than 20 years, Dr Emma Pennery manages the team of clinical nurse specialists and heads charity Breast Cancer Care’s national training programme for health professionals. Her team provides clinical expertise for the charity and she is involved in research and project work.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, and one in eight women will develop the condition in their lifetime.
Although it’s rare, men can get breast cancer too – out of the 55,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK, around 350 are men.
Breast cancer is not one single disease. There are several types of breast cancer, all of which can be found at different stages of development and grow at different rates.
The two biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. Having a significant family history may increase someone’s risk but less than 10% of all breast cancers are hereditary (run in the family). These are all factors we cannot control.
Eight out of ten breast cancers are diagnosed in women 50 and older. Yet, younger women can get breast cancer too – it’s the most common cancer in women aged under 40. In the UK each year there are around 5,600 diagnoses in women under 45.
So whatever your age, it’s important to get to know your breasts and what’s normal for you (click image below to enlarge).
There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts for any changes. Just try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly. You can do this in the bath or shower, when you use body lotion, or when you get dressed. There’s no need to change your everyday routine. Just decide what you are comfortable with and what suits you best.
It’s important to remember that a lump or thickening are not the only signs of possible breast cancer, so look out for any changes in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling, redness or a rash, a change in the position or shape of your nipple, or a change in the size or shape of your breasts.
As well as that, look for any discharge from your nipples and constant pain or swelling in your breast or armpit.
Remember to check all parts of your breast, your armpits and up to your collarbone.
When you check your breasts, try to be aware of any changes that are different for you. If you notice any unusual breast changes go and see your GP as soon as possible.
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, get it checked out.
Any new lump should always be assessed by a doctor, regardless of your age or whether you are still having periods or not.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to see a male GP you can ask if there’s a female doctor available.
When your GP examines you they may feel there’s no need for further investigation, or they may refer you to a breast clinic.
For more information about what happens at a breast clinic and the tests you may have, read what happens when you are referred to a breast clinic or download Breast Cancer Care’s Your breast clinic appointment booklet.
Most breast changes/symptoms aren’t due to breast cancer, but a prompt diagnosis can mean simpler and more effective treatment, which is why it’s so important to get anything unusual checked out.
For care, support and information from day one, call Breast Cancer Care’s nurses free on 0808 800 6000 or visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk4612 Views