Breast cancer is the commonest cancer in the UK. The earlier it is caught the better your chances of full remission. We offer guidance on how to self-check your breasts at home.
In the UK it is estimated that approximately 12,000 women and 80 men die from breast cancer each year. That over 80 percent of women with breast cancer now live for five years after the initial diagnosis supports the fact that the best procedures to combat this type of cancer are prevention and early detection.
Why Prevention is Best
‘Checking your own breasts regularly is of vital importance, because early diagnosis gives the best chance of successful treatment,’ says Professor Gareth Evans, Consultant in Cancer Genetics at The Christie Clinic, Manchester. The biggest asset in the push for prevention, alongside self-checking, is breast screening. Currently all women aged between the ages of 47–73 are invited for breast screening every three years as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme. Some women even opt to undergo preventative treatments for breast cancer if they are genetically predisposed to being at higher risk of the disease. Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie famously underwent a double mastectomy in 2013 as a preventative measure against the disease. There are also some preventative medications available.
The first symptom of breast cancer most women notice is a lump or an area of thickened tissue in the breast. Other symptoms may include:
- A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- Discharge from either of your nipples (which may be streaked with blood)
- A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- A rash (similar to eczema) on or around your nipple
- A change in the appearance of your nipple i.e. it becomes inverted
- Pains in either of your breasts or armpits not related to your period
If you notice any of the above symptoms, it is important that you get them checked by your GP as soon as possible.
Usually, surgery is the first type of treatment for breast cancer. Options include a lumpectomy; a mastectomy or lymph node removal if there is a chance the cancer has spread. Surgery is usually followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, hormone blocking treatments (i.e., oestrogen blockers like Tamoxifen), or certain biological treatments. The treatment ultimately depends on the type of breast cancer, and if the cancer is discovered after it has spread to other parts of the body (metastasis) the type of treatment provided may be different. Secondary cancer (advanced or metastatic) is not curable and treatment aims to achieve remission (i.e., shrinking the cancer or making it disappear). Chemotherapy and radiotherapy—the two main cancer treatments— may be used separately, together, or in conjuction with surgery. Both treatments may be intended as a curative measure (to eradicate the cancer cells completely) or to slow the spread of the cancer if it has progressed too far to be cured.
Treatment with radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause skin reactions which left untreated can develop into a severe reaction. This is often painful, itchy and red. The MosaicLife range of skincare products have been specially developed for cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy and are formulated specifically for the particular skin reactions that occur in different areas of the body. RaLife Cream is specially deigned for breast cancer patients.
Dr Chris’s Home Breast Exam
Step 1: Look in the mirror with an upright posture and place your hands on your hips. Then look for any abnormalities, such as dimpling in your breasts, bulging skin, a nipple that has changed position or is now pushed inward. Also look out for redness, soreness, a rash or swelling.
Step 2: Next, raise your arms above your head and look for the aforementioned changes.
Step 3: Look for any fluids excreting from your nipples—such as watery, milky or yellow fluid and blood.
Step 4: Lie down and put your hands on your breasts. Keep your fingers flat together and take your right hand and firmly begin to press against your left breast in a circular motion. Go from side to side to ensure that you are covering your entire breast. Begin at the nipple and move outward to ensure that you are getting the entire area. When checking the skin and tissue underneath it, use a light pressure. When checking the tissue in the middle of your breasts use a medium pressure and for the deep tissue in the back of your breasts use a deeper pressure that allows you to feel your ribcage.
Step 5: Check your other breast by repeating the steps with your left hand and your right breast.
You can download a copy of the article from Dear Doctor here.
For more expert opinion on a range of health issues, Celebrity Angels magazine is a very helpful source of information.