Breast cancer: what you need to know

Doctor holding roentgen film and woman on pink bra for breast cancer concept

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. If you're concerned, read on for the symptoms, types and screening options available.
Who gets it?

Around 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, of these about 350 are men. One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, with 80% of cases occurring in women over the age of 50. Nearly half of all cases are diagnosed in people in the 50-69 age group.

More than 80% people survive breast cancer beyond five years and more than 75% of people survive it beyond 10 years. If treated early enough, breast cancer can be prevented from spreading to other parts of the body. Detecting breast cancer in its early stages is vital. For this reason, it's important to check your breasts regularly for any changes and see you GP if you notice a lump.

Symptoms of breast cancer
The most noticeable symptom of breast cancer is a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.

Visit your GP if you notice any of the following signs:
• a change in the appearance of one or both breasts
• discharge from either of your nipples
• a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
• dimpling on the skin of your breasts
• a rash on or around your nipple
• a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

Breast pain isn't a common symptom of breast cancer.

Just because you find a lump doesn't mean you have cancer, but you should get checked out by your doctor. There are several benign conditions that may cause a lump. Some women also experience lumpy breasts prior to their period, due to changes in hormone levels.

Types of breast cancer
There are several different types of breast cancer, which are classed as either non-invasive and invasive types. Non-invasive breast cancer means that the cancer is located in the ducts of the breast and hasn't developed the ability to spread outside of the breast area. This type doesn't usually show up as a lump that can be felt. Instead, it's most often picked up by mammogram screening.

Invasive breast cancer mans that the cancer has the ability to spread outside the breast, although this doesn't necessarily mean that it has. Invasive ductal breast cancer (which develops in the cells that line the breast ducts) accounts for about 80% of all breast cancer cases.

Secondary or metastatic breast cancer means that the disease has spread to other parts of the body, usually through the lymph nodes or the bloodstream.

There are other less common types of breast cancer. Your doctor will talk you through the type you have, the treatment options, and survival rates, on diagnosis.

Breast cancer screening
If you have a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer (due to significant family incidence), you may be offered genetic testing and mammographic screening. However, it's worth remembering that only around 5% of breast cancers are caused by inheriting a faulty gene.

Because breast cancer is so common, it is not unusual to have people in an extended family who have had breast cancer. For the majority of people, having a relative with breast cancer does not increase their risk of developing the disease.

Because the occurrence of breast cancer increases with age, women aged 50-70 are invited for breast cancer screening every three years. Women over 70 are also entitled to screening and should speak to their GP to arrange an appointment.

For more information, speak to your doctor or visit the NHS Direct website.

Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk Now