Medical questions: watch out for signs of breast cancer

Medical Matters with Donna Egbeare, Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust:

It’s always great to see Breast Cancer Awareness Month get such coverage.

However, this can be a difficult month for individuals and families undergoing treatment, or for those whose family members have died of breast cancer.

I am often inspired by the incredible patients we treat and our wish is that everyone comes out of treatment with a positive outlook and feeling stronger for the future, but we know it can be difficult.

As the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her life.

Currently, with treatment, two out of three women will survive their disease beyond 20 years.

For many women, it’s a condition they live with rather than die with.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatments may involve surgery, radiation therapy, anti-estrogen hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.

Treatment is based on the type and size of breast cancer, the stage of menopause, and general health.

It is important to know the signs, get tested regularly and, if possible, modify lifestyle factors to help reduce risk.

BE AWARE OF BREASTS

Get to know your “normal” and understand what is new or different for you.

Most breast changes, including breast lumps, are not cancers, but it is important to get any new or unusual changes checked out.

When it comes to breast cancer, the earlier you are diagnosed, the better the chances of success for your treatment.

LOOK AND CHECK YOUR BREASTS REGULARLY

We recommend once a month – right after your period if you’re still having your period – to take a TLC approach:

  • TOUCH your breasts – can you feel anything new or unusual?
  • LOOK FOR CHANGES – does anything look different?
  • CHECK any new or unusual changes with your GP.

More information is available at https://breastcancernow.org

MODIFY YOUR LIFESTYLE TO REDUCE YOUR RISKS

Aging is the greatest risk of developing breast cancer. Most breast cancers, 80%, occur in women over 50. And the older you are, the higher your risk.

Some people are at higher risk because they have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer and other cancers, but this accounts for less than 10% of breast cancer diagnoses in the UK.

However, we can all make changes to some aspects of our lifestyle to help reduce our risk.

Alcohol – you have a 40% increased risk of developing breast cancer if you drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week compared to non-drinkers.

Obesity – your risk increases if you are overweight, BMI 25-30, or obese, BMI over 30, after menopause. Obese women also have a poorer prognosis and lower survival rates.

Exercise/activity – increased activity has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer and the risk of recurrence. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.

To smoke – increases the risk of all cancers, including breast cancer, due to the cellular DNA damage it causes. Get help to quit smoking.

Contraceptive pill – there is a slight risk of breast cancer while taking the pill, but the increased risk goes away soon after you stop taking it.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – the use of combination HRT is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. However, it can sometimes be the right choice for women who are managing menopausal symptoms, so if you have any concerns speak to your GP.

BREAST SCREENING

Around a quarter of cancers in women in the UK are diagnosed through the NHS breast screening program each year.

Women between 50 and 71, registered with a general practitioner, are automatically invited to have a mammogram every three years. After age 71, you can request screening every three years but you will not be automatically called.

About four in 100 women are asked to return for further testing after screening, one of whom will turn out to have cancer.

If you have missed your breast screening appointment, you can call the screening service on 01803 655350.

It is rare for men to develop breast cancer and often they wait longer to seek help, perhaps because they are not as aware of the breast.

Men should check themselves regularly and report any new nipple lumps or changes to their GP. They can also follow the TLC approach.

The Lodge Cancer Support and Information Center offers support for anyone affected by cancer, from complementary therapies and relaxation classes to financial counseling and support groups.

Our Breast Care Unit at Torbay Hospital is kindly supported by the Torbay and South Devon NHS Charity Breast Care Fund.

Through fundraising and donations, this fund supports projects identified by patients and staff that go beyond the NHS.

One such project is a free weekly yoga class for people who have had or are undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Helen, who attends the yoga class, said: ‘Theresa’s yoga group, her knowledge and care, and the support of other group members, got me through – not only cancer, but also other medical and life events. This has been one of the most important factors in my recovery, mental, physical and spiritual.

Kate, also a member of the band, said: ‘I’m a little weedy this week after the third dose of chemo so I won’t be at yoga today. But the scans show that my mass is reduced to one eighth of its original size in five weeks. Hooray! I win! Theresa’s yoga class fixed my broken soul.

If you would like to donate to the Breast Care Fund, please visit the JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/campaign/torbayhospitalbreastcare

Best wishes to everyone currently undergoing treatment and to everyone else – remember to check yourself regularly.

Donna Egbeare Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon in Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust

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