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What do you need to know?

At the Spire Specialist Care Centre in Chelmsford, we understand how daunting a cancer diagnosis can be. We are dedicated to helping you, whatever stage you are, from screening through to tailored treatment solutions all within Spire Healthcare. Our breast cancer care is bespoke to you and your needs, we have the facilities and expertise to offer screening, genetic testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 genes linked to the disease, lump investigation and a breast risk health assessment – without the worry and uncertainty of waiting.

Screening services and surgery

Is breast screening right for you?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the UK, with more than 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Clinical sources tell us that one in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their life, a fact that makes screening so important.

The good news is that the number of people dying from breast cancer is reducing sharply, due to a combination of improved treatments and earlier detection. Although the risk of breast cancer increases with age, about one in seven cancers are diagnosed in women under the age of 50.

It is generally recommended that all women should have a mammogram at regular intervals. Mammograms can help spot cancer in the breast that is too small to be seen or felt. A breast cancer genetic test and a breast health risk assessment can provide added reassurance – particularly if you have a family history of breast cancer. Recent health statistics estimate that breast screening saves 1,500 lives a year.

What is available:

  • Breast lump investigation
  • Breast lump removal
  • Breast reconstruction following mastectomy
  • Mammogram (mammography)
  • Mastectomy

Having breast cancer treatment - chemotherapy

When is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy can be used in the following ways:

  • Neo-adjuvant treatment: chemotherapy given prior to surgery, to try to shrink the tumour
  • Adjuvant treatment: chemotherapy given after surgery, when there are no visible signs of cancer. It aims to reduce the risk of cancer returning in the future
  • Curative chemotherapy: chemotherapy given to try and completely eradicate the cancer
  • Palliative chemotherapy: chemotherapy that aims to shrink the cancer, slow its growth or reduce the rate of spread. It may also help reduce any symptoms caused by the cancer.

Preparing for chemotherapy treatment

The following is some general advice to make it easier for you to receive chemotherapy comfortably:

  • Try and eat breakfast and/or lunch before you attend
  • Drink plenty of fluids and keep your hands and arms warm. This ‘plumps’ up your veins and can make it easier to insert a cannula, which may be used to give  our chemotherapy
  • Buy a thermometer to use at home
  • Wear comfortable, loose clothing
  • To help pass the time you can bring something to read, listen to or write on.

Wi-Fi is available and you can use mobile phones and laptops in the CDU however, please be considerate to your fellow patients particularly when using your mobile phone. The unit has coffee making facilities and lunch is provided if you are having treatment during the lunchtime period.

Skin care during chemotherapy

Can I go on holiday while on chemotherapy?

We strongly advise against travelling abroad. If you have already booked a holiday please discuss this with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible. It is also best to wait for at least a month after your last treatment before planning a holiday.

You will also need to make sure that you have travel insurance before going abroad.

Macmillan Cancer Support have up-to-date specialist travel insurance information. Macmillan Cancer Support Direct (Mon-Fri 9am-8pm) can be contacted on 0808 808 0000 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk

When I’m on chemotherapy do I need to stay out of the sun?

You should protect yourself from the sun. Chemotherapy makes your skin much
more sensitive and you can get sunburn more quickly than before. You may find the following guidelines useful:

Choose your sunscreen wisely

  • Choose one that protects you from both UV-A and UV-B rays. UV-B rays cause sunburn, but UV-A rays also increase your risk of skin cancer
  • Use SPF or at least 30:SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF:30 absorbs about 97% of the sun’s burning rays, while SPF:45 absorbs about 98%. No sunscreen or SPF will completely protect you from the sun
  • Apply sunscreen liberally Apply sunscreen, about the size of a ping pong ball, to every part of your body exposed to the sun. Don’t forget your ears, feet, behind your neck, and at the top of your head if you have hair loss. Your skin can take up to 30 minutes to absorb sunscreens, so be sure to put it on about 30 minutes before you go outside.

In addition to wearing sunscreen, you should:

  • avoid outdoor activities when the sun’s rays are strongest
  • seek shade whenever possible wear protective clothing and accessories, such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses
  • follow the “Shadow Rule” - if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s damaging rays are at their strongest and you are likely to burn
  • avoid tanning beds

Short term side effects of chemotherapy

Different chemotherapy drugs cause different side effects. Everyone is individual and will react to chemotherapy differently. Some people have very few side effects and others may have more. You will be carefully assessed by your nurse who will ask you about side effects before each cycle of treatment to make sure that we know about them. This assessment and the results of your blood tests helps your nurse to know if it is safe for you to have treatment.

Your nurse will talk about specific side effects of the treatment before your treatment starts.

In case you have a problem while receiving treatment you will be given 24-hour contact details for the unit. We use a telephone triage system to deal with enquiries. Before calling it is helpful if you can have the following information available:

  • your diagnosis
  • the names of the chemotherapy drugs you are on
  • the last date you received treatment
  • the name of your consultant
  • your current temperature.

It is very important that, wherever possible, we speak directly to the patient. This allows us to give you the correct advice that you need. We will also ask a number of questions that may seem unrelated to the reason for your call, but these allow us to make sure we give you the correct advice.

Please do not use this number if you are not on treatment. 

Infection 

Chemotherapy can make it more difficult for you to fight infection. Because of this, what seems a minor illness can develop into a more serious or even life threatening illness. You must get in touch with us if you feel unusually hot or cold, shivery or more unwell than you would expect at any stage in your treatment. It is important to check your temperature. You can buy a digital thermometer from your local pharmacy. A normal temperature is between 36-37°.

If your temperature is above 37.5° it is essential that you are assessed urgently.
Please be aware you can have a normal temperature and still have an infection so if you feel unwell you should contact us even if your temperature is normal.

Other considerations during your chemotherapy treatment

Frequently asked questions

Will I be able to continue working while I’m on chemotherapy?

Some people work throughout their treatment. Others prefer to take time off or may be advised to take time off based on what they do. You should discuss this with your nurse or consultant. Chemotherapy side effects can build up with each cycle.

You should tell your employer as soon as possible that you will be on chemotherapy and that this will mean that you will need to take time off to come for appointments and that you may need time off without warning if you are feeling unwell. You and your employer can then decide what works best for both of you.

If I can’t work, is there any financial support that I can get?

You may be able to get financial assistance while you are unable to work. Please speak to your nurse if you have any worries about money. Macmillan Cancer Support also offer financial advice. 

Will I lose my hair?

This will depend on the chemotherapy drugs you are on. You will be told before you start treatment if you are likely to lose your hair so that you can prepare for this. If you do lose your hair, it will grow back once you have finished your treatment but it may be a different colour or texture. Your nurse will be able to offer you help and advice on how to care for your hair and scalp when you are on treatment. We may be able to offer you a treatment called ‘scalp cooling’ that might help to prevent or reduce hair loss. However, this can only be offered to patients on certain regimes. If you would like to learn more about this or find out if this would be of use to you please speak to your doctor or nurse.