Breast cancer

What is breast cancer?

A woman’s breasts go through many normal changes during her lifetime. These changes can take place during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, the menopause, and may also be caused by changes in a woman’s weight.

In addition to normal changes, breast tissue can develop cells that result in benign or malignant cancerous growths. Although men have very little breast tissue, male breast cancer can arise.

If you are concerned about breast cancer please contact your GP. If your GP decides to refer you for further tests, you may ask for a private referral to Spire Murrayfield Hospital.

Who does breast cancer affect?

No-one knows what causes women to develop breast cancer. However, if you have a history of breast cancer in your family it is important that you tell your GP about this so they can decide whether you may be at increased risk. If you have a familial history of breast cancer, your GP may choose to refer you for routine, possibly regular, breast assessment and this can be carried out privately at our Rapid Access Breast Care Clinic at Spire Murrayfield Hospital in Edinburgh.

Incidence of breast cancer increases with age, with over 80% occurring in post-menopausal women over the age of 50 (Cancer Research UK, 2011).  It is now the most common cancer in the UK and women typically have a one in eight lifetime risk of contracting it. Although incidence is high, survival rates are at their highest for over 40 years and increase even further when breast cancer is caught early. 

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

If you find anything unusual or have any concerns regarding your breast health, you should consult your GP in the first instance to find out more information. Typical symptoms include:

  • change in the size and/or shape of your breast, eg flattening or swelling
  • dimpling of the skin (skin looks like the texture of orange peel)
  • change in the position of the nipple, eg newly inverted (turned-in) nipple
  • any discharge from the nipple (unless you are breast feeding and it’s milky discharge)
  • a rash or crusting on the nipple or surrounding area
  • swelling or a lump in the breast or armpit
  • veins which stand out more than usual
  • any changes in sensation, especially if in one breast only
  • constant pain in part of the breast or armpit

In these instances, report anything that looks or feels different to your GP or breast health nurse as soon as possible. If they decide that you should be referred for further investigation, whether you have private medical insurance or not, you can choose to be referred privately to Spire Murrayfield Hospital in Edinburgh.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and breast cancer

Consultants are often asked about HRT and whether this increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer. Cancer Research states that women undergoing HRT have a 66% increased risk of contracting breast cancer (table 4.3 'relative risk of invasive breast cancer in relation to recency and type of HRT used', Cancer Research UK website, 2011). The risk of breast cancer returns to normal about five years after stopping HRT.

What breast cancer treatments are available privately?

Private treatment options for breast cancer at Spire Murrayfield Hospital in Edinburgh can include one or a combination programme of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and surgery.

All decisions and patient treatment pathways at Spire Murrayfield Hospital are discussed and established by our multidisciplinary team of experts, which includes consultant breast surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses, pathologists, mammographers and counsellors. This team identify the most appropriate course of treatment to meet our patient’s individual clinical needs in accordance with the latest South East Scotland Cancer Network (SCAN) guidelines.

Click here for more information on cancer treatment at Spire Murrayfield Hospital in Edinburgh.

Rapid access breast clinic

Many women who attend this clinic will find that there’s nothing wrong; in fact, 80-85% of breast lumps are noncancerous ( and do not require treatment of any kind.

However, if cancer is detected, because early diagnosis greatly increases the chance of successful treatment and outcome, our clinic is designed to identify and plan what treatment you need so that it can be started as soon as possible.

Our private consultant-led rapid access breast clinic takes place on Thursday evenings. Appointments are also available on Tuesday evenings. During this comprehensive appointment patients will have a consultation with a consultant breast surgeon who will review the patient’s medical history. A physical examination may be performed and, should further examination be required, procedures such as biopsy, ultra-sound or mammogram can be carried out the same evening. Patients require a referral from their GP to attend this consultant-led clinic. Click here to find out more about the rapid access breast clinic.

Being breast aware

During everyday activities such as showering, bathing and dressing you can get used to how your breasts normally look and feel. Women are advised to self-check throughout the month to familiarise themselves with the look and feel of their breasts at all times. Knowing what is normal for you means you can better identify if something changes.  Follow the five point breast awareness code:

  • know what is normal for you
  • know what changes to look and feel for
  • look and feel
  • report any changes to your GP without delay
  • undergo routine breast screening if you are over 50