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Breast Cancer

3D breast cancer cell model


Breast cancer starts in the breast tissue and is the most common type of cancer in the UK. Breast cancer can have several symptoms, but the first to be noticed is generally a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.

Who is affected?

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK with around one in eight women diagnosed with it during their lifetime. The majority of these are over 50 but younger women can also get breast cancer.

Men can also develop breast cancer in the small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples, but this is very rare – less than 1% of total breast cancer cases diagnosed in the UK annually1. The cancer usually occurs in men over 60, however it can very occasionally affect younger men.

Benefits of breast screening

The likelihood of developing breast cancer increases with age, so all women in the UK aged 50 to 70 and registered with a GP are invited for breast cancer screening every 3 years.

Breast screening aims to find breast cancers early as the earlier the condition is found, the better are the chances of surviving. Early diagnosis also makes it less likely that a mastectomy (breast removal) will be needed or chemotherapy.

Current evidence suggests that breast screening reduces the number of deaths in the UK from breast cancer by around 1,300 per year1.

Types of breast cancer

There are different types of breast cancer which can develop in different areas of the breast. Clinicians use systems of staging and grading to assess the size, spread and abnormality of the cancer. These factors help determine the treatment that will be offered.

Early, locally advanced and secondary breast cancer

Early breast cancer – has not spread beyond the breast or lymph nodes in the armpit on the same side of the body.

Locally advanced breast cancer – has not spread to another part of the body but may be larger than 5cm in diameter, have grown into the skin or chest muscle, or be present in the lymph nodes and stuck together or to other structures.

Secondary breast cancer – also called metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer, means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Local recurrence – the cancer has returned to the breast after treatment.

1 Cancer Research UK – Male Breast Cancer2 Cancer Research UK – Breast Screening Information

What is breast screening?

Breast screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs that could show a cancer is developing. A mammogram is performed at a special clinic or mobile breast screening unit, which involves taking X-rays of each breast in turn. This can help detect breast cancers when they are too small to see or feel and usually easier to treat than larger ones.

If the X-ray is not clear enough or shows any abnormal areas, you will be asked to return for a further assessment – this does not mean you have cancer. Generally this is due to the mammogram being unclear, with an average of 7 in 100 women (7%) being called back for a second test.  Around 3 out of 100 women (3%) will then be recalled after additional tests1.

What a mammogram shows

With early stage breast cancer, there may be no symptoms not even a lump. However a mammogram may show small areas of calcium in the tissue.

Called calcification, these areas can also develop due to non-cancerous changes in the breast. The skill and experience of the clinical staff helps them to read the different patterns and decide if further tests are required.

Using the latest imaging technology will assist the team of radiologists and doctors in reducing false negative/positive results.

Information sourced from Cancer Research UK & NHS England
Cancer Research UK

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