Breast Cancer

The WOMMen hub is primarily aimed at explaining and supporting women without symptoms through the breast screening programme. However, we realise that some women will want more information about what happens if they get a positive diagnosis. The following information is therefore a very brief overview and you are advised to visit the following dedicated breast cancer websites and support groups.

ABCDBreast cancer nowNHS choicesCancer research ukMacmillan

Breast Cancer, types, hormone receptive.

There are several types of breast cancer; some common types and some which are rarer. The different types and the various stages at which cancer is detected means women can be on different treatments. Everyone’s disease is individual to them.  Due to this and everyone’s biology being different there are different prognoses (or outcomes) associated with each type and stage.

High risk groups

Cancer cell smallScientists are beginning to show that there are various risk factors that are associated with breast cancer although this research is still on-going and there is a lot we don’t know about risk.

It is known that certain lifestyle and genetic factors can put you at a higher risk of being diagnosed with the disease.

Known risks include:

  • Being a woman  over 50 (although some men do get breast cancer mainly over 60)
  • Not breast-feeding
  • Having children later in life
  • Alcohol
  • HRT (long term use)
  • The contraceptive pill
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight-gain over the age of 50
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking

There area also genetic factors such as those associated with

  • High breast density
  • How tall you are
  • Early puberty
  • Late menopause
  • BRCA1 & BRCA2 mutations

Remember this is just a guide and you would need to speak to your GP to see whether you are at specific risk.

Image showing human white blood cells

Human white blood cells, magnified view

Sometimes there can be a genetic fault that causes breast cancer (although this is only linked to 5% of breast cancers). This can be due to changes in a gene that is passed from either parent i.e. blood relative (female or male). Some ethnicities are more prone to having a genetic fault that causes breast cancer.

Secondary breast cancer

Secondary disease, also known as Stage IV breast cancer, advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer means the cancer has spread to another part of the body. The places where breast cancer can spread are typically the liver, bone and brain. Currently there is no cure when you get a diagnosis of this breast cancer, only treatment to keep the disease manageable and relieve symptoms.

It is not clear what percentage of women will go on to develop secondary disease, but has been estimated at between 35% – 50% by different sources e.g. The  UK Department of Health National Cancer Strategy and the NICE 2011 quality standards on breast cancer

Your oncologist (cancer specialist) will be able to provide various options and treatments which may include: bone strengtheners, monthly injections, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormone therapies.  Occasionally surgery can be offered on the site where the breast cancer has spread.

Inflammatory breast cancer

Image showing what breast cancer can look like as imagined using lemons

Worldwide Breast Cancer charity image of lemons attributable to http://knowyourlemons.com/signs-of-breast-cancer/

This is a rare and very aggressive disease where the cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast area. It is called “inflammatory” because the breast can look swollen, red, or “inflamed.” Often there is not distinct lump which can be felt or detected on the mammogram and an ultrasound scan may be needed. If you think you may have this then you would need specialised, urgent treatment and a quick diagnosis. See your GP if your breast is swollen, red, hard to the touch and warm. You may also notice an orange-peel appearance to the skin and an inverted nipple and/or discharge. Cancer Research UK has some useful information on IBC

Breast cancer treatment

There are several different treatment options.These include: surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy

The treatments you are offered depend on what type of cancer you have, what stage it is at, the size of the cancer and the grade of the cancerous cells. Your hormones also influence the best treatment options for you. Discussion about treatment is extremely important. Make sure you understand what you are being told and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need. Take a list of questions with you to your appointment with the specialist because it is easy to become confused and flustered at this very emotional time.

Join support groups where you can talk to women who have gone through similar experiences. There are some excellent on-line groups including After Breast Cancer Diagnosis and a number of Twitter groups including #BCCWW