Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. A breast lump is the first symptom in 9 out of 10 cancers.
Treatments for breast cancer may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and drugs to block hormones or their effects on cancer cells (hormonal therapies).
In the majority of women, breast cancer is first identified as a painless lump in the breast. Although most breast lumps are benign (not cancerous), they still need to be checked to rule out the possibility of cancer. If a lump does turn out to be malignant, early diagnosis and treatment is important as the majority of women with breast cancer can be treated successfully and often cured.
Other symptoms of breast cancer can include:
A change in the size or shape of the breast
Dimpling of the skin of the breast
A thickening of the breast tissue
A nipple becoming inverted (turned in)
A lump or thickening behind the nipple
A rash (like eczema) affecting the nipple
A bloodstained discharge from the nipple (this is very rare)
A swelling or lump in the armpit
Pain in the breast is not a common sign of breast cancer. Most healthy women find that their breasts are lumpy and tender prior to their period. Some types of non-cancerous breast lumps can be painful.
Non-Cancerous breast lumps
The majority of breast lumps are not cancerous (benign). Common causes of benign breast lumps are:
Cysts – sacs of fluid that build up in the breast tissue. Breast cysts are fairly common. Nearly one in ten women will have a breast cyst at some point during her life.
Fibro adenomas – solid lumps consisting of fibrous and glandular tissue. These types of non cancerous lumps are most common in women who are in the 20s and 30s.
A personal history of breast cancer or certain breast diseases
Women who have had breast cancer previously are at an increased risk of developing it again.
The female hormone Oestrogen can affect the development of breast cancer; therefore exposure to oestrogen (without any breaks) over a long period can increase the risk.
Risk factors include early onset of periods, late menopause and the prolonged use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The risks are higher in women who have not had children or have had their first child after the age of 35, and haven’t breast fed.
Drinking more than two units of alcohol a day over many years can increase the risk.
Being overweight once a woman has reached the menopause can also increase the risk of breast cancer.
A very small minority of breast cancers are thought to be related to faulty genes that run in families. The two main genes linked to breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, it is possible that you have inherited a faulty cancer gene.
In the UK, all women between the ages of 50 and 70 are offered mammograms (breast x-rays) every three years, as part of the national breast-screening programme. Women over the age of 70 aren’t routinely sent for but can continue with screening by request.
Women may be eligible for regular screening at a younger age if they are at higher risk of developing breast cancer because of their family history.
BMI The Beardwood Hospital offer a mammography screening service to all women from the age of 40.
Follow the Five Point Breast Awareness Code:
Know what is normal for you
Check both the look and feel of your breasts
Know what changes to look for and feel
Report any changes to your GP without delay
Attend for routine breast screening if you are over 50
Change in size of your breast
Changes in the shape of your breasts, eg flattening or swelling
Dimpling of the skin (skin looks like the texture of orange peel)
Change in the position of the nipple, eg newly inverted (turned-in) nipple
Any discharge from the nipple (unless you are breast feeding and it’s milky discharge)
A rash or crusting on the nipple or surrounding area
Swelling or a lump in the breast or armpit
Veins which stand out more than usual
Any changes in sensation, especially if in one breast only
Constant pain in part of the breast or armpit
Report anything that looks or feels different to your GP or nurse as soon as possible
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