Being breast cancer awareness month, it’s fitting we should dedicate this month’s ‘Let’s Talk’ health feature to raising awareness about the UK’s most common cancer. Breast Cancer Care share their shocking research and handy symptom checker (download to your devices by right clicking on the image and saving) to help save lives. You can get involved to change the outlook by contacting the charity directly and even by sharing this guide- awareness is half the battle.
Breast Cancer facts and statistics
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, one person is diagnosed every 10 minutes.
- 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month over 5,000 people will be diagnosed.
- An estimated 691,000 are alive in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
- Every year around 11,400 people die from breast cancer in the UK.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to divide and grow in an abnormal way. It’s not one single disease and there are several types of breast cancer. It can be diagnosed at different stages and can grow at different rates. This means people can have different treatments, depending on what will work best for them. When the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the breast or lymph nodes, this is known as primary breast cancer.
Secondary breast cancer is where breast cancer cells spread from the first (primary) cancer in the breast to other parts of the body, most commonly the bones, brain, lungs or liver. It is incurable but it can be treated, and people can live with the disease for a number of years. The aim of treatment is to control the cancer, relieve any symptoms and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.
Am I at risk?
Exactly why some people get breast cancer and some don’t is not fully understood. Research suggests that breast cancer is caused by a combination of lots of different factors, many of which are beyond our control.
The three main risk factors of breast cancer are ones we can’t do anything about:
- Being a woman – over 99% of new cases of breast cancer are in women.
- Getting older – more than 80% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60.
- Significant family history – this isn’t common, around 5% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have inherited a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
Other risk factors can include being overweight (especially after the menopause) and drinking more alcohol than the recommended amount. Factors which may decrease risk include doing regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-balanced diet and limiting your intake of saturated fats.
Having one or more risk factors might mean that the likelihood of you developing breast cancer is only slightly greater than if you don’t have these risk factors. It doesn’t mean that you will develop breast cancer and importantly your overall individual risk may still be small. Remember one person may have many risk factors and not develop breast cancer, while another may have very few risk factors and be diagnosed with the disease.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer can include:
- a change in size or shape
- a lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast
- a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)
- redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
- your nipple has become inverted (pulled in) or looks different (for example changed its position or shape)
- liquid (sometimes called discharge) that comes from the nipple without squeezing
- constant pain in your breast or your armpit
- a swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.
Knowing what warning signs to look for can lead to earlier detection of breast cancer. This can be crucial in providing more effective treatment and, ultimately, saving lives. So whatever your age it’s really important to get to know your breasts and what’s normal for you.
Try to get used to touching and looking at your breasts in a way that’s comfortable and convenient for you. That might be while you’re in the shower or getting dressed, or perhaps when you’re putting on body lotion. Breast cancer can affect any area that has breast tissue, so be sure to check all parts of the breast, under the armpit and up to the collarbone.
It’s important to remember that most breast changes are likely to be normal, they could be linked to your menstrual cycle, for example, or non-cancer breast conditions such as cysts. But if you do notice something different or new, get it checked out with your GP.
About Breast Cancer Care
Breast Cancer Care is the only UK-wide charity providing specialist support and tailored information for anyone affected by breast cancer. Their clinical expertise and emotional support network help many thousands of people every day to find a way to live with, through and beyond breast cancer.
An estimated 691,000 are alive in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer. This is predicted to rise to 840,000 in 2020. In 2017 as more people are living longer with the disease the need for continued support and information is increasing.
Anyone looking for support can contact Breast Cancer Care’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 and for more information about how to get involved this Breast Cancer Awareness Month visit breastcancercare.org.uk and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.