It is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK and next year another 60,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer - that is almost one person every 10 minutes!
But, according to leading cancer charities, better awareness, better screening and better treatments now mean we are winning the battle to beat breast cancer.
Figures from Breast Cancer Care UK show that more than almost 9 in 10 (87%) women diagnosed with breast cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for five years or more while an estimated 78% survive for 10 years or more.
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month running throughout October, Mr Abdul Kasem, a Consultant Breast Surgeon at Spire Alexandra Hospital in Kent, says: “We are winning the battle but the fight must go on.”
And he warned that, despite major improvements in detection and treatment around 12,000 UK women still die of breast cancer every year.
But he stressed that early detection was crucial to improving survival rates.
“Statistics show that with increased awareness and through high-profile media campaigns we can influence the behaviour of women across the UK. We need to ensure that every woman knows how to carry out effective self-check procedures and, just as importantly, what to do if she thinks something is wrong.
“It is important to get an early appointment with a GP to discuss the matter. The patient will then receive informed advice and, if necessary, be placed on the healthcare pathway and receive the necessary advice, help and treatments.”
Mr Kasem added: “Breast cancer is not one single disease – there are several types of breast cancer and these can be diagnosed at different stages and can grow at different rates.
“This means that there is a range of treatments, and we, as clinicians, will discuss with patients what we feel will be the best treatment for them as an individual.”
Although finding a lump in your breast does not always signify breast cancer Mr Kasem said that it was important that women ‘got to know’ their breasts so they could spot changes.
“Many women will experience lumpy breasts just before their period; often this disappears after the period. However, it is important to keep checking and if the lump doesn’t go away then get it checked out by your GP.
“I would advise women who notice any new lump or breast change to visit their doctor, regardless of age or whether they are still having periods or not,” he added.
Possible symptoms that can be found by self-examination:
- Painless lumps in the breast
- Changes in the size or shape of a breast
- Dimpling to the skin of the breast
- Thickened breast tissue
- Nipple inversion
- Lump or thickening behind the nipple
- Rash affecting the nipple
- Blood-stained discharge from the nipple
- Swelling or a new lump in the armpit
- Clear nipple discharge coming from one side.