Breast cancer is, by far, the most common cancer in the UK; as of 2013, there have been 150 cases diagnosed every day. With that in mind, it’s important that we all take it seriously. That’s why it’s great that this month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s in full swing. The purpose of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to provide support and information to women, so, we’re sharing some key points to keep you informed.
What is breast cancer?
Put simply, breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of breast cells caused by a mutation in the gene that’s responsible for cell regulation. Breast cancer occurs when these extra cells form a malignant tumour; a tumour that can spread to other parts of the body and begin to affect healthy cells.
Catching it early
Breast cancer has a number of stages; spotting it at the earliest stage possible will make treatment much easier. Most breast cancer cases are caught in stage 0. This is when there are cancer cells present in the breast but they haven’t begun to spread or affect healthy cells surrounding them. Spotting the signs at this stage greatly increase chances of recovery.
What to look for
There are lots of signs and symptoms of breast cancer; a lump is just one, and sometimes, won’t be the most obvious sign. Things to watch for include:
- A change in size or shape that’s not linked to other causes such as hormone changes.
- Constant pain in your breast or armpit – it’s worth bearing in mind that this is not a common symptom of breast cancer in its early phases. It is usually indicative of a cyst rather than cancer or is related to your menstrual cycle. The time to see your doctor is if the pain becomes severe or persists.
- A lump that feels different to the rest of breast tissue – this is the most common symptom of breast cancer and is usually the easiest one to spot. Most of the time they tend to be painless but uncomfortable. Often, lumps turn out to be benign masses but if you do feel something different it’s important to see a doctor.
- Swelling in your armpit or collarbone – this is a symptom of a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, so it’s important to get this checked out immediately. It can be caused when cancer has spread to lymph nodes, leaving the rest of your body vulnerable to cancer cells.
- Redness or rash on the skin or puckering – this is often described as skin feeling like orange peel. It is most often caused by a common infection called mastitis which is easily treated with antibiotics. However, if symptoms persist for over a week go back to the doctor as this can be caused by inflammatory breast cancer.
- Nipples becoming inverted - this can be caused by breast cancer, as well as other changes like puckering and redness of the skin.
- Discharge from the nipple – this is a common symptom for pregnant women and new mothers. However, when not linked to pregnancy, more often than not nipple discharge is an early sign of cancer, especially when the discharge contains blood. However, there are a number of causes of nipple discharge, and if it isn’t present with one of the above symptoms, it’s likely to be another condition.