This October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which provides the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of the warning signs and look for any abnormalities. Here Spire Washington Hospital’s breast care specialist nurse Amanda Pinkerton talks through the key things you need to know to stay safe.
What should ladies look for when checking for signs of breast cancer?
The first thing to be aware of is what’s normal for you so you can spot any changes as soon as they happen. Looking and doing a physical check needs to be a regular activity because, as with any cancer, speed is of the essence when it comes to a potential diagnosis and treatment.
The best thing is to apply a common sense approach. If there are any changes in the shape or size of your breast, or you can see or feel a lump or thickening of the skin, that can be an indicator that something isn’t right. The same goes for any rash, redness or discharge from the nipple, or if the nipple becomes inverted, changes position or puckers / dimples.
What many people don’t realise is that swelling in the armpit or collarbone, or constant pain in the armpit or breast can also be a warning sign.
Please remember though that having one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean anything serious is wrong - it’s just a good idea to get checked out.
What are the options for those with concerns or wanting peace of mind?
The best advice for anyone with concerns is to immediately seek advice from a GP, especially if you are presenting with any of the symptoms set out above.
If you are anxious generally, it is possible to refer yourself for a scan – for example, Spire Washington Hospital has a Wellness Clinic that offers the service. Many ladies find it hugely reassuring to be able to access scanning and put their minds at rest.
What kind of risk does breast cancer pose?
According to the charity Breast Cancer Care, 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. Nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with it annually and it is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the UK.
The facts are really sobering and underline exactly how important it is to look after yourself through regular checks.
What happens when ladies are referred to Spire Washington Hospital’s Breast Clinic?
Our consultants will take a full history and carry out a clinical examination usually followed by a mammogram and / or ultrasound. If there is a lump, a fine needle aspiration is performed, which extracts breast cells from the lump for us to analyse very quickly in the lab. Sometimes a core biopsy is needed and we ask the lady concerned to come back in 48 hours. If there is a cancer diagnosis, it is at this point we start discussing potential treatments.
This could be surgery followed by a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment but it all depends on the individual. We have a dedicated oncology unit where all chemotherapy and pre-op assessment takes place and this is also where we fit each breast prosthesis after a mastectomy.
For those further on through their treatment, we offer breast reconstructions and nipple tattooing services too.
What other support is available at Spire Washington Hospital?
Our Breast Clinic is open every day and evening appointments are available as we try to be as accessible as possible.
There is a strong patient support network that takes place on the first Wednesday of every month at which experiences are exchanged and topics like nutrition, exercise, wigs and bras are covered. We also offer holistic therapies and acupuncture for patients experiencing hot flushes.
As a team, we always look to support a national and local cancer charity and in October we’re having a Pink Day to fundraise for local and national cancer charities – something that we’re very proud to do.