Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, making up 12.5% of diagnosed cases. Here in the UK, the disease is even more prevalent in women, accounting for 30% of cancer cases.
Several factors can trigger the growth of tumours in breast tissue, such as air pollution, drinking too much, smoking, and not exercising enough.
Genetic factors, such as BRCA Gene mutations, lead some women to take the preventative measure of having their breasts removed, though it’s worth knowing that only 3% of breast cancer cases are in women who carry genes linked to the disease. Age also plays a role in the development of breast cancer, with women over the age of 50 who have been through the menopause at higher risk. In the UK, the majority of breast cancer cases — 8 in 10 women diagnosed — are in this age bracket, according to the NHS.
As such, it’s a good idea for women to check their breasts regularly and have screenings at a breast clinic in order to catch any potential problems as soon as possible.
How does breast cancer develop?
Any cancer starts when cells in the body begin to divide and grow more rapidly than is normal, leading to a clump of cells that then develops into a tumour. If left untreated, a tumour can damage surrounding tissues, blood vessels and organs, interfering with their function and causing pain. Breast cancer normally starts in the milk ducts; around 80% of cases globally will be this type of breast cancer.
Cancer cells can also form in other parts of the breast, including the lobules or glandular tissue, but it’s important to keep in mind that just because you feel a lump in a breast, it doesn’t mean it’s malignant cancer. Most lumps — around 90% — turn out to be benign and therefore harmless.
If breast cancer cells do turn out to be malignant, it’s important to act quickly. Your doctor will tell you the plan of action, but you will usually have some form of surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of the three. The longer it’s left untreated, the greater the risk that the cancer cells will break free from their location in the breast — the primary tumour — spread to nearby lymph nodes, enter the bloodstream and take hold in vital organs like the brain and liver, where secondary tumours will start to grow. This is called metastatic breast cancer, and it can be difficult to treat.
What kind of breast-screening tests are there?
There are several ways to screen the breasts. Women over 50 in England will be invited by the NHS to have a breast screening every three years because their age puts them at greater risk of developing breast cancer. However, it’s important that younger women get screened too, and if it’s not possible to have it done at an NHS hospital, you can opt to go private..
The most common breast scan is a mammogram. This is a type of X-ray machine that highlights abnormalities like calcifications and masses in the breast tissue. Some women find it slightly uncomfortable, while others experience pain, as the machine flattens the breasts to take images. Thankfully, the process only lasts a few minutes.
It’s best not to have a mammogram just before or during your period, when your breasts may be tender and slightly swollen. On the day of your mammogram, don’t use any kind of powder, perfume or deodorant around the breast area because the X-rays can make them look like suspicious lumps or spots.
Another way to examine the breasts is with an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine, which works by taking images using radio waves and magnets. An MRI will usually only be done on someone who has a high risk of breast cancer, and may be combined with a mammogram to get a clear and detailed picture of the various areas of the breasts.
When you have private breast screening at our breast clinic in London, you might also have a CT (Computed Tomography) scan, as well as a breast ultrasound. If your doctor decides a sample of the lump is needed to see if it’s actually a tumour, we may carry out a stereotactic localisation. This is a procedure that uses a mammography machine to pinpoint the area of concern then a small needle is used to take a sample (biopsy).
Peace of mind with regular scans
With around 55,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year, it’s a good idea to have regular checks at a breast clinic. This means action can be taken quickly should anything out of the ordinary be detected.
As cancer is a fast-growing disease with the potential to spread around the body, catching it early and starting treatment will give you the best chance to of beating it and getting back to normal life as quickly as possible. With no waiting times or queues, put your mind at rest with a private breast screening.
If you’d like to have a check-up or scan, make an appointment at our Breast Clinic. You’ll be seen by an experienced Breast Consultant and you can pick from a set of fixed price breast assessment packages, so you’ll know exactly how much to budget.
You can give the clinic a call on 020 3370 1041 or fill out an enquiry form here.