BREAST cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and often affects women over 50 although anyone can develop it – even men.
Around one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer, although recovery chances are high if detected early.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Breast cancer often causes changes in the breast, including an alteration in the shape or size in both or one of your breasts. Sometimes there may be a lump which feels thicker or harder than the rest of the tissue. The skin on your breast may change, causing puckering or dimpling, that can resemble orange peel. A rash may appear or your skin may seem redder, especially around the nipple.
Your nipple may also change shape, and appear stretched, and liquid may leak from the nipples, even without being squeezed. The nipples may also become sunken or inverted. You may experience pain in your breast – or armpit – and there may be a swelling around your collarbone or armpit. Some changes that occur may not be a sign of cancer but normal changes or a benign lump.
What age should you go for breast cancer screening?
Around two million women are screened for breast cancer each year. The NHS Breast Screening Programme is currently for women aged between 50 and 70, and involves screening every three years. In some parts of England, this has been opened to women aged 47 to 73 years old as part of a trial. Women are called to a mammogram, which is an image of the breasts obtained by mammography. Mammography is used for the early detection of breast cancer and involves an X-ray of the breasts. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) an annual, worldwide campaign. There are events held across the UK and the world to "highlight the importance of breast awareness, education and research." People also wear pink, and the hashtag #wearitpink is used throughout October, and people can also wear a ribbon in support. You can find out more information and ways to get involved by visiting the Wear It Pink website.
How to check for breast cancer?
There is a five-step self exam you can do at home to check for any changes.
- Step one: Begin by looking in a mirror, facing it with your arms on your hips and your shoulders straight. You should be looking for any dimpling, puckering, bulging skin, redness, soreness, a rash or changes in the nipple.
- Step two: Still looking in the mirror, raise both arms above your head and check for the same changes.
- Step three: With your arms still above your head, check for any fluid coming from the nipples. This can include milky, yellow or watery fluid, or blood.
- Step four: While lying down use your opposite hand to check each breast. Using a few fingers, keeping them flat and together, go in a small circular motion around your breasts. Make sure you feel the entire breast by going top to bottom in these small circles. It helps to develop a system or pattern to make sure every inch is covered. Use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath, medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of your breasts, and firm pressure to feel the tissue at the back, feeling down to your ribcage.
- Step five: Feel your breasts while either standing or sitting, using the same small circular motions.
What if you spot any changes in your breast?
It is important to regularly check your breasts for any changes. Breast tissue reaches all the way up to your collarbone and across to your armpit, so it’s vital to check these areas too. If you feel or see any changes in your breast you should always consult your GP. Charity CoppaFeel! recommends checking your breasts monthly, so you can pick up on any changes quickly. Breasts do change naturally as part of your monthly menstrual cycle, so you should get to know your breasts, how they feel and what changes they usually go through to know if anything is out of the ordinary.
If you’re pregnant your breasts will go through a lot of changes, and probably will never look the same.
Be aware of any new changes, and keep checking them regularly.
During the menopause breasts may also change size and shape, but it is still important to see your doctor over any new changes.
If any changes or lumps need further treatment, your GP may recommend a mammogram or a biopsy.
Charity Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel! have more information and support for people who have been diagnosed, are living with or in remission from breast cancer. The NHS website also has a page dedicated to breast cancer.
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