October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A month which sees people from countries around the world, raise awareness of the disease which claims almost half a million lives every year.
Worldwide, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, and in the UK it is the most common type of cancer. The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 50, but younger women get it too. Although it is rarer, men can also be diagnosed with it.
What causes breast cancer?
It’s not known exactly what causes breast cancer. That is why there’s such an emphasis on early detection, to maximise the chance of treatment being effective.
There are however some things which are known to increase the risk of getting breast cancer. Some of the risks are unavoidable, like:
- Getting older
- Having a family history of the disease
- Previous lumps in your breast, or previously having breast cancer
- Dense breast tissue, as this means you have more cells which could become cancerous
- Exposure to some hormones (both naturally and unnaturally, via medication)
- Exposure to some infections
However, according to the World Health Organisation, between 30 and 50% of all cancers are preventable. Some of the things that have been linked to causing breast cancer which you can do something about are:
- Reducing or eliminating tobacco intake
- Eating healthily
- Being physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight
- Minimising alcohol intake
- Avoiding exposure to carcinogens and radiation
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
There are several ways breast cancer can present itself, but the first thing most people notice is usually a lump or thickened area of breast tissue. If you notice this, or any of the following symptoms, speak to your GP:
- Any change in the shape or size of one or both breasts
- Discharge from either nipple – it could be streaked with blood, but doesn’t have to be
- Any lumps or swelling in either of your armpits
- Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- Any rash around your nipples
- Any changes in the appearance of your nipples – like it becoming sunken, or inverted
Pain in the breast is not a common symptom of breast cancer.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
If you identify any of the common symptoms, the first stage will involve your GP examining your breasts. They will refer you to a specialist breast cancer clinic for further tests, if necessary.
If your GP refers you to a specialist clinic, you will probably need a mammogram, and maybe a ultrasound scan too. Even if you get a referral after an NHS Breast Screening Programme appointment, a further mammogram or ultrasound might be needed.
A biopsy might be taken to test whether a sample of cells are cancerous.
If a cancer diagnosis is confirmed, more scans will be needed to determine the staging. The staging will then determine what treatment is needed.
How is breast cancer treated?
The most common treatments are:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
Which of these is the most appropriate will depend on when and how the cancer is diagnosed. Sometimes a combination of treatments is the best option.
When can Pryers help?
Pryers are here for you when things go wrong. It’s important to remember that the majority of medical treatment goes by without a problem. But occasionally doctors make mistakes; after all, they’re only human. Pryers are here to help you in those situations; where you’ve been the victim of medical negligence.
Over the years, we’ve helped people claim compensation for delayed and misdiagnosis of cancer, as well as for the consequences of the treatment itself being poor.