Breast cancer is when the cells that line the ducts or lobules in your breasts start to grow abnormally and multiply in an uncontrolled way to form a tumour.
There are different types of breast cancer, but it’s most often found in the milk ducts and is usually invasive – called invasive ductal cancer. Other types are:
Sometimes breast cancer spreads to the lymph glands and to other parts of the body. This is called metastasis and is harder to treat.
Around one in eight women will get it in their lifetime. Women in the UK between the ages of 50 and 70 are offered a mammogram every three years. With screening and being aware of changes in your breasts, it’s possible to find and treat breast cancer early. This can mean a good outcome for many women.
The main breast cancer symptoms are:
By checking your breasts regularly you’ll be able to spot if something seems different.
These are often signs of normal changes in your breast, but you should see your GP if you experience any breast cancer symptoms.
Your GP will examine your breasts and the lymph nodes under your arms and by your neck. They’ll ask about your family history and if you’re taking HRT or the contraceptive pill, or if you’ve had previous breast surgery.
They may refer you to a breast clinic for:
They may take a sample of breast tissue with:
You may also have these tests repeated if you’ve been recalled back from a routine screening. This is often because the results of a previous mammogram weren’t clear, but may mean there were signs of breast cancer.
If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor will be able to tell you the stage and grade of your cancer. To see if your cancer has spread you may also need a:
About 70% of breast cancers are linked to the presence of the female hormone, oestrogen in your body. Most breast cancers happen by chance and the biggest risk factor is being a female over 50.
Other causes of breast cancer are:
A family history of breast cancer – although less common, some women carry a gene mutation that makes them more likely to develop breast cancer
Treatment depends on the type of breast cancer and whether it’s localised within your breast or has spread to other parts of your body. Surgery is usually the first treatment offered to remove a lump or cancerous tissue before it spreads.
You may also be offered: