12 October 2019
You may have noticed lots of things around you suddenly taking on a pink hue – that’s because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here at Spire Norwich Hospital we’ll be doing our bit to help raise awareness too. Shahnaz Fraser of Spire Norwich Hospital talks to Mr Simon Pain, Consultant General Surgeon and breast care specialist, about the symptoms, treatment and advances in reconstructive surgery following breast cancer.
Over 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, making it the most common cancer amongst women in the UK. It is likely that you, or someone in your family, know someone who has been affected by the disease. Along with advances in treatment, early detection has significantly improved the five year survival rate to nearly 90%, and the 10 year survival rate to more than 70%.
Remember breast cancer is not something that just affects women – although very rare, nearly 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK too.
It’s important to check breasts regularly so you are aware of what is ‘normal’ for the look and feel of your breasts, and this will help you quickly identify any changes that could be the early signs of the disease. Women over the age of 50 are encouraged to have a mammogram (an X-ray that produces an image of the inner breast tissue) every three years.
Breast cancer symptoms vary widely — from lumps in the breast or the arm pit, discharge from or changes to the nipple’s appearance (becoming inverted or sticking out predominately) to, swelling and changes to the skin. Not all these symptoms mean breast cancer though, there may be a simple explanation for changes such as an allergy, infection or a benign (non-cancerous) cyst. It is important you visit your GP if you are concerned or notice any changes in your breasts.
For those who have been diagnosed with the disease, surgery may remain the most important aspect of treatment. The surgery commonly performed is the removal of the cancerous lump or, in some cases, a removal of the breast (mastectomy). Treatments like chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiotherapy support the surgical treatment by ‘attacking’ cancerous cells, and reducing the chance of local or distant recurrence (cancer forming in the same part or different part of the body).
Mr Simon Pain, Consultant General Surgeon at Spire Norwich Hospital, explains, “As part of a multidisciplinary team (group of different healthcare specialists working together, including Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons) Spire Norwich Hospital offers oncoplastic breast surgery in order to improve the cosmetic outcomes of surgery. Oncoplastic surgery focuses on aesthetic outcomes and the quality of life for the patient, without compromising local control of disease. Studies have shown this type of surgery can also help reduce the psychological effects to the patient.
“Due to the success of breast cancer treatments there is an increasing interest in the study of “survivorship” – the outcomes of surgical treatment, including quality of life in long-term survivors. This has led to a number of innovations in breast cancer surgery over the last 25 years, which concentrate on recreating breast shape and volume. In most patients, wide local excision of the cancer and local reconstruction is possible. The focus of this surgery is on the principle of providing minimal treatment for maximal benefit to the patient."
Following surgery, the team at Spire Norwich Hospital can provide a range of immediate reconstruction options such as:
• removal of all breast tissue, leaving the skin and rebuilding with an implant (skin sparing mastectomy)
• removing the whole breast and skin and inserting an implant to gradually stretch the remaining skin
• reconstruction with your own living tissue taken from another part of your body
• a combination of your own tissue and an implant
• newer techniques like fat transfer (lipomodelling)
Mr Pain concludes, "Advances in medicine, technology and surgery will continue to develop as our knowledge of the disease increases. We are far from eradicating cancer, but it’s encouraging that survival rates are increasing. With breast cancer we are able to offer patients more choices following their treatment, surgery may be part of their recovery by providing them with a more aesthetically pleasing outcome."
For all patients survival is a priority; however it’s reassuring to know that the developments in oncoplastic surgery could support the psychological aspect of the disease.
Local patients affected by breast cancer can seek help from local breast reconstruction charity Keeping Abreast, as well as well-known charities such as Macmillan. Keeping Abreast was established in Norwich in 2007 and supports breast cancer patients by providing them with advice, support and the opportunity to meet other patients facing a similar diagnosis.
If you have any concerns about changes within your breast, it is important to see your family GP as soon as possible. Alternatively call 01603 255 614 to make a private appointment with breast care specialist. You can view Mr Simon Pain's profile here.
All surgery carries an element of risk and the content of this page is provided for general information only. It should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.