Breast Cancer – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care
Brest cancer is one of the most common cancers in women with 41,000 cases being diagnosed each year as well as about 300 men. The chances of developing breast cancer are higher in older women but lower in those who have children at an early age and have breast fed their children.
The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated the better the chances of success. All UK women between the ages of 50 and 69 are offered mammograms every three years as part of a national breast screening program. The aim of this program is to catch breast cancer early and make treatments more successful. Women over 70 can ask to continue will 3 yearly screening and women under 49 with a history of breast cancer in the family can discuss with their GP whether they should start screening early.
In most women, breast cancer is first noticed as a painless lump in the breast. Other symptoms may include a change in size and shape of the breast, thickening of breast tissue, dimpling of the skin, swelling or lump in the armpit and a rash affecting the nipple. Pain in the breast is rarely a symptom of breast cancer.
If a GP examines the breast and thinks a cancer is present then he will refer the patient to the hospital where the following tests may be done:
Mammography – a low dose x-ray of the breast tissue
Ultrasound – the use of sound waves to build up a picture of the breast tissue
Colour Doppler ultrasound – shows the blood supply to the area to determine the difference between a cancer and a benign lump
Needle (core) biopsy – a needle is used to take a small piece of tissue from the affected area
Fine needle aspiration – a needle and syringe are used to take a cell sample form the affected area
Blood tests – general health check to see how the liver and kidneys are working and check for the presence of cancer producing chemicals in the blood
Excision biopsy – surgery where the whole lump is removed and sent for examination
One-stop clinics – Clinics where all relevant tests are done together and results are processed while you wait.
Treatment of breast cancer depends on the stage and grade of the cancer, patient’s age, whether the cancer cells have receptors for certain hormones or proteins, and the size of the tumor. Most breast cancers are treated with surgery to remove the tumor, all or part of the breast tissue may be removed at the same time but reconstructive breast surgery can be done at the time of initial surgery or at a later date. Chemotherapy or hormone therapy may be done before surgery to shrink the cancer. After surgery, radiotherapy may be given to make sure any remaining cancer cells are destroyed.
Doctors can calculate the chances that the cancer has spread or will come back and most women will be advised to continue treatment with chemotherapy or hormone therapy to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. Some women have both treatments but at different times.