Breast Cancer Awareness Month
To promote breast cancer awareness, we have written this introduction to breast cancer. Read more to learn the most common symptoms, diagnostic techniques and treatments for breast cancer today.
Written by Medical Quality Manager, Clare , BN (Hons)
Medical Review by Chief Commercial Officer, Dr. Lizzie Tuckey , MBBS, BA
Published: Thursday, 6 January 2022
October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
My name is Clare. I am a Registered Nurse and work at Medbelle as a Medical Quality Manager.
In 2016 my mum was one of the on average 55,200 people annually in the UK who are diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer was detected during a routine mammogram at an incredibly early stage. Very luckily, this meant the cancer was cured with a combination of radiotherapy and surgery without the need for chemotherapy.
Despite revolutionary technology in detection and treatment, around 11,500 people die in the UK every year due to breast cancer.
What is breast cancer awareness?
The good news is, early detection is an important factor in contributing to positive outcomes from breast cancer treatment. This is why early detection via regular check-ups, breast scans and self-exams are so important.
Throughout October, we at Medbelle will be publishing a range of articles focused on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in an effort to promote breast cancer awareness month. However, another important part of breast cancer awareness month is understanding the disease.
This article is focused on the basics of breast cancer including what it is, how it is diagnosed and treated, and a frequently asked question about breast cancer and breast implants.
What is breast cancer?
As a first step towards breast cancer awareness, let’s discuss what breast cancer actually is. At its most basic, breast cancer is a mass of cells that grow to form a tumour in the breast.
Not every cancer is life-threatening. However, some cancers spread or metastasise to other areas and organs which usually makes treatment much more complex. This progression to metastasis is generally described in stages.
For breast cancer, there are 4 main stages as described below.
- Stage 1 (least advanced): The breast tumour is smaller than 2 cm in diameter and there is no sign that it has spread to other parts of the breast or body
- Stage 2: The tumour is between 2 to 5 cm and/or the lymph nodes in the armpit are affected by cancer but there is no sign it has spread to other parts of the breast or body
- Stage 3: The tumour is between 2 to 5 cm and may be attached to other surrounding breast tissues and the lymph nodes in the armpit are affected but there is no sign it has spread to other parts of the breast or body
- Stage 4 (most advanced): The tumour has metastasised meaning it has spread to other parts of the body
How is breast cancer detected?
Early detection is a huge motivating factor for breast cancer awareness month because of the positive outcomes associated with the treatment of early-stage breast cancer.
Very generally, breast cancer can be detected during a physical examination of the breast or via a diagnostic scan of the breast (via a mammogram, ultrasound or both).
Both physical exams and diagnostic scans are important in detecting and diagnosing breast cancer as quickly as possible.
Once your GP detects a lump or suspects a tumour in your breast, they will order a test called a biopsy to find out if the suspicious cells are in fact cancerous.
They may also request the lymph nodes in your armpit are also tested to see if they are affected.
How is breast cancer treated?
For patients diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing how the disease is treated is an important part of breast cancer awareness month. Once the cells are confirmed as cancerous, there are a few options for treatment. The treatment types described below are often combined to create a treatment plan that’s best to treat specific types and stages of breast cancer.
Types of surgery to treat breast cancer include:
- Lumpectomy is a type of breast-conserving surgery that removes the tumour alone and preserves as much unaffected breast tissue as possible
- Mastectomy is the complete removal of the breast
Both of these surgical treatments can usually be followed by breast reconstruction after treatment. Restoring breast volume and shape after breast cancer treatment can restore a patient’s confidence and comfort in their body.
Radiotherapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells. This radiation can be applied to various areas of the chest and lymph nodes.
Side-effects of radiotherapy include fatigue, lymphoedema and skin irritation.
Chemotherapy uses various chemicals to kill cancer cells. The chemicals are unable to target cancer cells specifically so chemotherapy is often associated with unpleasant side effects.
These side-effects include fatigue, sickness, lack of menstruation, infection, hair loss, and irritation and sensitivity of the gums and mouth. Side effects can often be controlled with medication and other treatments
There are many other breast cancer treatments from hormone therapy to various targeted treatments and clinical trials. So-called complementary therapies can also make your treatment journey better. These include things like therapy, breathing exercises, massage, acupuncture and aromatherapy.
Do breast implants cause breast cancer?
In short, no, there is no evidence that breast implants cause breast cancer. As the NHS notes, there is no proof to suggest breast implants cause breast cancer. However, there is limited research that suggests breast implants may make it more difficult to detect early-stage breast cancer. This is why patients with implants are encouraged to have regular breast cancer checks.
If you have breast implants, ask your healthcare providers if they have experience and/or training regarding scanning patients with implants for breast cancer. Find more tips and suggestions for breast screenings with breast implants in this Medbelle breast cancer awareness month blog article about mammography.
When considering implants it is important to be aware of an incredibly rare cancer of the lymphatic system called Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma or BIA-ALCL. The NHS estimates that this condition affects around 1 per 24,000 implants sold and that it is mostly related to a specific type of textured implants. Medbelle surgeons avoid using textured implants where possible.
The good news is that the treatment for BIA-ALCL is very successful. If for any reason you are concerned about BIA-ALCL or want to learn more, speak to your surgeon to check what kind of breast implant you have.
Breast cancer awareness and knowledge form the foundations of tackling breast cancer head-on and help ensure more patients every year benefit from early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer.
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