October is officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month!
- Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in the UK
- 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
- Around 55,000 women and 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year
- Around 1,000 women in the UK die from breast cancer every month. However, more women than ever are surviving thanks to better awareness, screening and treatments.
What causes Breast Cancer?
There are many things, or factors, that can increase or decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. One of the biggest risk factors is increasing age. At least 4 out of 5 breast cancers occur in women over 50.
In a small number of cases, breast cancer runs in the family. Most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease or the faulty genes linked to breast cancer.
You can lower your risk of developing breast cancer by making changes such as drinking less alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and being regularly physically active.
Detecting it early
The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of beating it.
Women aged 50 and over are entitled to free breast screening (a mammogram). You should get your first appointment between your 50th and 53rd birthdays. You will receive an invitation for screening every 3 years until you reach 70 - after this you will make your own appointments.
Out of 100 women being screened:
- 96 will have no signs of cancer
- 4 will need further tests
- 1 woman will be diagnosed with cancer
Regardless of age its important to be breast aware as most breast cancers are found by women noticing unusual changes, taking the initiative and visiting the doctor.
How to be breast aware
Being breast aware simply means knowing what your breasts look and feel like normally, being on the lookout for any unusual changes and getting them checked out by your doctor.
Its as simple as TLC – Touch, Look and Check
- Can you feel a lump? Either in the breast, upper chest or armpit
- Is there a lumpy areas? Or unusual thickening of the breast tissue that doesn’t go away?
- Is there any unusual pain? Either in part of the breast or the armpit?
- Any change in size or shape? g. one breast might become larger or lower than the other
- Any change in skin texture? Such as puckering or dimpling of the skin of the breast
- Any change in colour? g. the breast may look red or inflamed
- What about the appearance or direction of the nipple? g. the breast may look red of inflamed
- What about the appearance or direction of the nipple? g. one might become inverted (turned in) when it normally points out
- Any unusual discharge? One or both nipples
- Any rash or crusting of the nipple or surrounding area?
- Is anything unusual? If so, get it checked by your doctor as soon as possible.
You can also undertake an extensive self-checkout with breast cancer charity Coppafeel or watch the video below for guidance. If you forget to check regularly, you can also sign up for regular boob check reminders!
Lisa Lepley's diagnosis story
Hi, my name is Lisa Lepley - I am a Senior Strategic Business Officer for Cornwall Council as well as a Health & Wellbeing Champion. I am extremely passionate about raising awareness of the importance of early detection of breast cancer, following my own diagnosis of breast cancer this year...
In March 2021, I found a lump in my left breast, just 7 months after a clear mammogram. I felt silly going back to my doctor after a clear mammogram months earlier, but my GP immediately referred me to the Mermaid Centre at Treliske. The ultrasound revealed that there were 5 lumps in my breast and a biopsy was taken.
A week later I was told they unexpectedly found 5 tumours of an aggressive form of breast cancer. At the age of 42, I was pretty shocked as I didn’t have any symptoms other than a lump. I was told it was simply bad luck.
A lymph node biopsy was taken to ascertain the extent of what I was dealing with and whether it had spread. The biopsy results took a week to come back and this was the longest most terrifying week of my life. All manner of thoughts went through my mind. Did I find it soon enough? Has it spread around my body? And the inevitable am I going to die? At this point I didn’t tell anyone about my diagnosis as I didn’t want to scare people unnecessarily before I knew what I was dealing with.
Luckily, the lymph node biopsy revealed I had caught it before it had spread. However, I was now about to step onto the cancer roller coaster of appointment after appointment.
Firstly, a bone scan, then a CT scan to see if there was cancer in any other organs/tissues and a heart scan to measure my heart's baseline performance, as one of the drugs I would be given can cause damage to your heart.
I met with my oncology consultant to discuss treatment. I was to start a course of aggressive chemotherapy immediately and would have surgery to remove any residual cancer cells, with radiotherapy and further treatment that would last a year to stop cancer returning if we managed to get rid of it.
Chemotherapy for me was an infusion of 4 different treatments every 3 weeks, with every session lasting a whole day. I was given all manor of potions to aide any side effects I might experience and the one I was most concerned about was nausea and being sick. The first round was a total shock to my body and was beyond hideous but luckily I was never sick.
Having chemo during a pandemic is certainly interesting as my immune system was basically non-existent and any Covid vaccine was rendered useless. For 7 days post chemo I had to inject a solution into my stomach to increase the rate of white blood cell production to assist my bone marrow to recover and facilitate my immune system to return.
Whilst chemo is unpleasant it was in no way as bad as I thought it was going to be (apart from the first round!). Obviously though, everyone experiences it differently and different cancers are treated with different drugs, but oncology are amazing and will do everything they can to ease any discomfort.
My hair started to fall out after my first session and I made the decision to shave it all off. At first, I wore hats, but I found I was doing this more for other people than myself, as I noticed some people were uncomfortable looking at me. After a couple of weeks however the hats were off as steroids were causing me to get very hot.
After 5 sessions of chemo I revisited the breast care team for a mammogram and ultrasound to see if the chemo was working. I was very pleased to hear that the tumours looked to have dissolved. After my 6th session and once my immune system had increased I had surgery to remove the surrounding breast tissue and 3 lymph nodes. 2 weeks later I was given the amazing news that there was no trace of cancer and I have an excellent prognosis.
I still have a lot of treatment to go through to stop it returning, in the form of radiotherapy and 3 weekly injections until July 2022.
I can not stress enough the importance of checking your breasts regularly. I am proof that early diagnosis saves lives. Even if you have the 3 yearly mammograms please check yourself as in the space of 7 months I went from a clear mammogram to having 5 tumours in my breast with an aggressive form of cancer. If I had left it just a couple more months it would have been a very different story for me. I am aware that there is a possibility that it will return, so I will always live with cancer, it just might not be in my body. But I will have a mammogram every year until I am 50 and I will ensure I check myself every month.
Whilst it is scary to receive a cancer diagnosis it is something that can be treated if caught early enough. The week of waiting to hear if I had caught it soon enough was so scary and I would hate for someone to experience that week and really know they have left it too long.
Having cancer has totally changed my life, I am so humbled to have witnessed the amazing NHS staff. They have been absolutely phenomenal and have been there for me and the hundreds of others that I have met that are going through cancer. A thank you for saving my life doesn’t do justice for what they have done for me. So, I want to try and help by raising awareness of the importance of early detection.
Please check yourself monthly - get to know your breasts. Please don’t be scared to get screened. It isn’t painful and it isn’t embarrassing, they don’t care what you look like they just want to help you. It makes their day if they can give you the all clear.
If you are unlucky enough to be diagnosed please know that the staff in the NHS are so incredible that they will help you through it. It is a long slog of treatment but you will meet some inspiring people along the way - and you are not alone. You will have your moments where you are scared but you can continue to live your life and it's just something you have to go through.
I also want to say a thank you to anyone who has ever given money to cancer research. 10 years ago being diagnosed with the type of breast cancer I had would have been a death sentence as there was no treatment for it, so thank you for giving and please continue to give to save more lives.
If you are currently going through something similar and would like someone to chat to that might understand what you are experiencing, please feel free to get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are living with or affected by cancer, you can call the Macmillan support line on 0808 808 00 00 any day between 8am-8pm for emotional support and practical information.
- Cancer Research UK - resources and support for breast cancer patients, including support organisations, books, biographies and suppliers for women who have had breast surgery.
- Breast Cancer Now
- Breast Cancer Support
- Breast Cancer UK