The Best Protection is Early Detection - Breast Awareness

The Best Protection is Early Detection


Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with 55,222 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in the UK in  2014, leading to a total of 11,423 deaths from breast cancer in the same year.

Eileen Fegan talks  about what Breast Cancer is and the signs and symptoms to look out for, to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of the most common cancer in our Society. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 1.68 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, with incidence rates varying across the world. 

Breast Cancer not only affects women; men are at risk too.  In 2014, there were  390 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in men.  On average, 150 women every day are diagnosed.  Most breast cancers in men are invasive. This means the cancer cells have spread outside the lining of the ducts and into surrounding breast tissue, so, even though breast cancer in men is rare, it is still a risk. . There are different types of invasive breast cancer:

  • Invasive ductal breast cancer – Most invasive breast cancers in men are this type (80–90%).
  • Invasive lobular breast cancer – This cancer is rare in men because there are few, if any, lobules in men’s breasts.

A lump in the breast is still the most common sign  of breast cancer.

  The best advice that any women (and man) can receive, is to understand and learn what your breasts feel like, over time.  Learn what natural changes take place during your periods and at other times. Look at your breasts when you change your clothes.  Look for changes that seem unusual for you.  In a lot of cases, it is the partner of the woman who finds the lump, as they often recognize strange and unusual bumps and lumps. Signs and symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • a change in size or shape
  • a lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast
  • a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)
  • redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
  • your nipple has become inverted (pulled in) or looks different (for example changed its position or shape)
  • liquid (sometimes called discharge) that comes from the nipple without squeezing
  • constant pain in your breast or your armpit
  • a swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.

    It is important to remember that the breasts are not usually the same size as each other and they  may also feel different at different times of the month. It is recommended to check your breasts every month, following a shower or bath.

    The density of the breasts changes as women get older, for example, younger women have more glandular tissue in their breasts, which makes them dense. Once a woman has gone through  her menopause, the glandular tissue is gradually replaced by fat, which is less dense. During breast screening it is harder to read a mammogram if the breast tissue is dense and this is why mammograms are not as reliable when performed on younger women. 

    Specialists have found that older women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have denser breasts than would be expected for their age. This is related to the HRT. It isn't a problem in itself, but it may make mammograms less accurate for this group of women.

It is important to remember that most breast lumps are not cancerous. They are usually fluid-filled lumps called cysts, which disappear in a couple of weeks; or a fibroadenoma, which is made up of fibrous and glandular tissue.  It is still very  important to get any lump or change is breast colour, texture or density, checked by a GP as soon as possible.

Breasts are made up of fat, supportive (connective) tissue and glandular tissue containing lobes. The lobes (milk glands) are where breast milk is made. They connect to the nipple by a network of fine tubes called ducts.

The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease. It also drains lymph fluid from the tissues of the body before returning it to the blood. The lymphatic system is made up of fine tubes called lymphatic vessels that connect to groups of lymph nodes throughout the body.

Lymph nodes or lymph glands are small and bean-shaped. The lymph nodes filter bacteria   from the lymph fluid. When you have an infection, the lymph nodes often swell, as they fight the infection.

Sometimes, cancer can spread through the lymphatic system. If the cancer cells spread outside the breast, they are most likely to go to lymph nodes in the armpit as the breast tissue extends into this area. There are also lymph nodes near the breastbone and behind the collarbone. You will usually have your lymph nodes checked for cancer cells. Types of breast cancer include;

  • ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
  • invasive ductal breast cancer
  • invasive lobular breast cancer
  • HER2 positive breast cancer
  • triple negative breast cancer
  • inflammatory breast cancer
  • Paget’s disease of the breast
  • malignant phyllodes tumour
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • This is the earliest form of breast cancer. In DCIS, cancer cells are in the ducts of the breast, but they haven't started to spread into the surrounding breast tissue. DCIS shows up on a mammogram and is usually diagnosed when women go for breast screening.

    Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

  • LCIS isn’t breast cancer. In LCIS, there are changes to the cells lining the lobes, which slightly increases the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Most women with LCIS never develop breast cancer. It’s monitored with regular breast screening and mammograms.

    Invasive breast cancer

  • Most breast cancers are invasive. This means the cancer cells have spread outside the lining of the ducts or lobules into surrounding breast tissue.

    Invasive ductal breast cancer

  • Most invasive breast cancers (80%) are this type.

    Invasive lobular breast cancer

About 1 in 10 (10%) of invasive breast cancers are lobular.  It can sometimes be difficult to diagnose on a mammogram.  If you are under 35, your specialist is likely to suggest that you have an ultrasound instead of a mammogram. Mammography is possible in women who have had breast implants but may take a little longer.

Mammography can be uncomfortable because the breasts are put between two metal plates and a little pressure is applied. But most women describe this as mild to moderate discomfort. It only lasts a few minutes. The pressure doesn't harm the breasts.

Specialists will do tests on the cancer to help decide which treatments are best for you. They look at whether the cells have receptors (proteins) for hormones or a protein called HER2 (HER2 positive breast cancer). Breast cancer that has no receptors is called triple negative breast cancer.

So, there are a number of options if Breast Cancer is diagnosed and these include;

  • Surgery. An operation to remove the tumour is the main treatment for many types of cancer. It is usually used for cancers that are in one area of the body.
  • Radiotherapy. High energy x-rays are used to destroy the cancer cells. By targeting the area affected by cancer, there is as little harm as possible to the normal cells.

Other treatments treat the whole body. These are called systemic treatments and include;

  • Chemotherapy. This uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. There are many different chemotherapy drugs. Which you are given depends on the type of cancer you have.
  • Hormonal therapy. These therapies reduce the level of hormones in the body or block the hormones from reaching cancer cells. This can stop the cancer growing.
  • Targeted therapies. These destroy cancer cells, usually by interfering with the cancer’s ability to grow or survive.


Thanks goes to Cancer Research UK, for their support in writing in this article.  Further advice can be obtained from


The Breast Expert      image007

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