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What is breast cancer, what are the symptoms and who does it affect?

With it being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the team here at dandi patch wanted to contribute in any way we could. We are going to write 3 blogs this month dedicated to breast cancer in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We hope our readers will gain some invaluable knowledge which they can share in order to help others further understand this awful disease. Our first of three blogs is going to outline and answer the following questions; 

  • What is breast cancer?
  • Who does breast cancer affect?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
  • What should I do if you spot a symptom of breast cancer?

 

What is breast cancer and who does it effect?

 “1 in 8 women and 1 in 870 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime” and “There are around 54,900 new breast cancer cases in the UK every year, that's around 150 every day” (Cancer Research UK, 2015)

Breast cancer affects both males and females across the world, in fact, breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 15% of all new cancer cases (2015). However, in males in the UK, breast cancer is not among the 20 most common cancers, but in females, breast cancer is the most common cancer, with around 54,800 new cases in 2015 (Cancer Research UK, 2015).

Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. A tumour is cancer if the cells can grow into surrounding tissues or spread to other areas of the body. Thankfully breast cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer if found in the early stages, therefore it is essential that you have routine screening checks and pay special attention to your body if you suspect any change in the breast area.

 

What are the signs & symptoms of breast cancer? 

Although typically many types of breast cancer usually cause a lump to form under the skin, it is important to know that not all do. A large number of cases of breast cancer are discovered on screening mammograms which are used to detect cancer at its early stage which is often before the lump itself can be felt or symptoms begin to develop. Lumps are not the only sign or symptom of breast cancer! The following is a list of the typical signs and symptoms to be aware of;

 

  • A lump in the breast – this can be a variety of shapes or sizes so be aware!
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast itself.
  • Dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue.
  • A nipple that has inverted (turned in).
  • A rash or eczema on the nipple itself.
  • Discharge coming from the nipple.
  • Swelling or a lump in the armpit region.
  • Pain and/or discomfort in the breast which doesn’t go away

 

It is extremely important to recognise the above symptoms, however, if you notice anything else that is strange or unusual within the breast area it is very important to consult your GP and get it checked out immediately, despite the temptation to sometimes think it's nothing, it's really not worth taking the risk! It is also worth mentioning that breast lumps can also be non-cancer related all together, these are referred to as Non-cancerous breast tumours. These lumps do not spread outside of the breast and aren't , however, if not removed or dealt with, these non-cancerous lumps can increase the risk of getting cancer. The moral of the story here is; ALWAYS GET IT CHECKED!

 

What to do if you think you have breast cancer?

If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms above then it is crucial that you visit your GP as soon as possible. Your GP will examine you and your breast to see if there are any standout signs or if you need further assessment, at which point you will be referred to a specialist breast cancer clinic. The following information outlines the procedures undertaken by a specialist and has been taken directly from the NHS website.

Mammogram and breast ultrasound

“If you have symptoms and have been referred to a specialist breast unit by your GP, you'll probably be invited to have a mammogram, which is an X-ray of your breasts. You may also need an ultrasound scan. If your cancer was detected through the NHS Breast Screening Programme, you may need another mammogram or ultrasound scan. Your doctor may suggest that you only have a breast ultrasound scan if you're under the age of 35. This is because younger women have denser breasts, which means a mammogram isn't as effective as ultrasound in detecting cancer.

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breasts, showing any lumps or abnormalities. Your breast specialist may also suggest a breast ultrasound if they need to know whether a lump in your breast is solid or contains liquid.

Biopsy

A biopsy is where a sample of tissue cells is taken from your breast and tested to see if it's cancerous. You may also need a scan and a needle test on lymph nodes in your armpit (axilla) to see whether these are also affected. Biopsies can be taken in different ways, and the type you have will depend on what your doctor knows about your condition. 

Your doctor will use a small needle to extract a sample of cells, without removing any tissue. Needle biopsy is the most common type of biopsy. A sample of tissue is taken from a lump in your breast using a large needle. You'll have a local anaesthetic, which means you'll be awake during the procedure, but your breast will be numb. Your doctor may suggest that you have a guided needle biopsy, usually guided by ultrasound or X-ray, but sometimes MRI, to obtain a more precise and reliable diagnosis of cancer" (NHS Online, 2018).

We hope this first blog has been as informative as possible for all of our readers. Blog 2 will be posted within the next week or so and it will be covering the relationship between breast cancer and aluminium and parabens and how the dandi patch can be of great use to breast cancer sufferers.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

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