Breast cancer is very common and will affect one in eight women in the UK over the course of their lifetime. In 2015 there were 55,000 new patients diagnosed.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER?
Patients may identify a change in their breast (below) or may be asymptomatic and have their breast cancer diagnosed as a result of undergoing a screening mammogram. The following are possible signs of breast cancer that a patient may notice and should cause you to arrange an appointment with your GP:
• Lump in the breast
• Thickening of the breast skin
• Rash or redness of the breast
• Swelling in one breast
• New pain in one breast
• Nipple turning inward (inversion)
• Nipple discharge
• Lumps in the underarm area
• Skin tethering or distortion on raising arm above head
HOW IS BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSED?
During a clinic appointment, you will be asked all about the breast change or symptom you have noticed, and a full medical history and clinical examination should be carried out. It is very likely that further tests will be arranged on the basis of your symptoms and examination and may include:
- Mammograms (X-ray)
- Breast ultrasound
- Breast MRI
- Breast biopsy
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR BREAST CANCER?
Treatment for all patients with breast cancer should be discussed by your breast surgeon at the local breast cancer multidisciplinary team (MDT). This is a weekly meeting with many breast cancer specialists present to ensure that there is agreement on investigations, diagnosis and that the correct form of treatment is being offered to the patient.
There are many types of treatment available for breast cancer, and may include
• Breast surgery (breast conservation, mastectomy)
• Lymph node surgery (sentinel node biopsy, axillary node dissection)
• Breast reconstruction
• Anti-hormonal therapy
• Targeted Biological therapy
• Bisphosphonate therapy
For most patients, surgery will be the first part of their treatment for breast cancer, but there may be situations where patients are offered either chemotherapy or anti-hormonal tablets before their surgical treatment (neo-adjuvant medical therapy). The reasons for this can vary and should always be thoroughly discussed with the patient before she makes a decision about her treatment.
WHAT IS THE PROGNOSIS FOR PATIENTS WITH BREAST CANCER?
This will depend on numerous factors including:
• Tumour sensitivity and response to different types of treatment (Oestrogen and Herceptin)
• Disease stage (confined to the breast / spread to lymph nodes / distant spread)
• Fitness of the patient to undergo certain types of treatment
Despite this, breast cancer remains a very treatable type of cancer, with survival rates considerably higher than for many other common types of cancers even for patients with more advanced patterns of disease at diagnosis.
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