Breast cancer has the highest incidence in women across the world, effecting 1 in 8 women in the UK. The Breast Unit at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth provides a dedicated one-stop breast clinic.
If Breast cancer is found in its early stages there is more than a 95% survival rate at five years. This figure is constantly improving due to research which now make us look at breast cancer like a chronic disease similar to diabetes that can be kept under control.
Mr Debashis Ghosh a Consultant breast & oncoplastic surgeon, talks to us about what signs and symptoms to look for.
What are the common symptoms?
The most common sign to look out for is a breast lump. A lump is an abnormal solid area in the breast which may feel like a pea or as large as an orange. They can be irregular in shape, have a rough surface and they may be mobile or fixed. They may feel soft, firm or hard.
The common causes of a lump are cysts, fibro adenomas, fibrocystic disease, lipomas and cancers.
- Skin: It is important to look at the skin over the breast. Observe the skin for any bruising or any thick area, look for any puckering or signs of redness.
- Shape or size: Check for any change in the shape and size of the breast, any swelling or disparity between the breasts
- Nipples: look for any changes in the nipples, any area of itching around the nipples and change in colour. Look if the nipple has turned inwards or if there’s any discharge from the nipples.
- Armpits: It is important to look for any lumps under the armpits and watch out for persistent breast pain that has lasted too long.
Is there a common age for developing breast cancer?
Breast cancer is not just a disease of the young, 1 in 3 cancers are found above the age of 70. Every woman between the ages of 18 and 100 should check themselves monthly. Women who have noticed any signs or symptoms should see their GPs.
The Breast Unit supplies testing that includes an ultrasound scan or a mammogram as well as a check by the breast surgeon. If a lump is found a core biopsy is performed, then a patient is called back to be given the definitive result.
Risk factors for breast cancer
The three important risk factors to look out for with breast cancer are being overweight, alcohol and long term use of HRT.
- Obesity – the excess fat in the body is the second biggest producer of female hormone oestrogen, which promotes growth of breast cancer. If one can lose weight and maintain an optimum Body Mass Index (BMI) 22-28 this goes a long way in preventing breast cancer.
- Alcohol – current studies show that even drinking in moderation is a significant risk factor.
- HRT or Hormone replacement therapy – used in post menopausal women to prevent osteoporosis and other post menopausal symptoms. If taken for more than ten years it produces a very high rate of developing breast cancer.
Family history of breast cancer causes a lot of anxiety but only 5% of all breast cancer is diagnosed due to a defective family gene. The only situation to be aware of is if there have been several family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Are there any preventative factors?
- Regular exercise
- Avoid red meat and fatty food.
- Eating a healthy diet that contains greens, fruits and vegetables
- A brisk walk of 20 minutes a day is the only exercise we need if you cannot do a regular workout.
There are continuing advancements in the treatment of breast cancer, such as:
- A special genetic test available to determine if a patient requires chemotherapy.
- Radiotherapy can be given as single dose intra-operatively.
- New drugs are available for helping people with relapse.
- There is a focus on maintaining the aesthetic and cosmetic appearance of the breasts during surgery.
- Every patient will not need their whole breast removed and special surgical techniques and special chemotherapy regimes help in conserving the breast.
- We offer reconstruction for every patient who has a mastectomy
You can rest assured that a definite diagnosis is made with an approved management plan by a team of experts.
To book an appointment with Mr Debashis Ghosh, call the Breast Unit on 020 7266 4272 or email [email protected].