Breast Cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the UK. About 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. There is a good chance of recovery if detected early.
In This Section
The causes of breast cancer are not fully understood but research and studies have consistently shown that there are certain risk factors that will increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
The risk factors that are within your control are:
- Exercise – Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Your Weight – Being overweight or obese after the menopause may put you more at risk of developing breast cancer. It is thought that this is linked to the amount of oestrogen in your body, as after the menopause being overweight leads to more oestrogen being produced.
- Your alcohol consumption– regularly drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who do not drink at all.
- Taking hormones – Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both oestrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
There are some risk factors that you have no control over:
- Your Age – as you get older, the risk of developing breast cancer increases. Women over 50 that have been through the menopause are the most at risk group.
- Your Family History – It is important to note that most cases of breast cancer do NOT run in families. There are however a few recognised hereditary genes that can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, these are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
- If you have previous had breast cancer or a lump – If you have had breast cancer before then you have a higher risk of developing it again, or if you have had a certain type of benign breast lump in the past then you may also be very slightly more at risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
- When you start your periods or go through the menopause – Your risk of developing breast cancer may rise slightly with the amount of oestrogen your body is exposed to, so for instance if you started your periods early and went through the menopause at a late age then your exposure to oestrogen will have been over a long period of time.
The first symptom of breast cancer most women notice is a lump or an area of thickened tissue in their breast.
It is really important that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always get any changes examined by their GP.
Contact your local surgery and make an appointment to see your GP if you notice any of the following:
- a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- bloodstained discharge from either of your nipples
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.
What Can Your GP Do?
After examining your breasts, your GP may refer you to a specialist breast cancer clinic for further tests. This might include mammography, ultrasound or a biopsy.
Word from our GP
Although finding a lump or problem with your breast can be very frightening, it is important to remember that most people these days have successful treatment for breast cancer, especially if it is caught early. If you have any concerns about your breasts don’t hang around, go and see your GP, who will be happy to examine you and decide if you need any further tests.
Dr Sophie Nelson, Oak Tree Surgery
Things to remember
1. About 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. There’s a good chance of recovery if it’s detected in its early stages.
2. All women who are 50 to 70 years of age should be screened for breast cancer every three years as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme.
3. Women over the age of 70 are still eligible to be screened and can arrange this through their GP or local screening unit.
4. In rare cases, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer.
5. 90% of breast lumps are not cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by your doctor.