Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s all about promoting awareness of the disease and raising vital funds for research, so everyone diagnosed can get the best treatment and support available.

Unfortunately, breast cancer remains the most common cancer in the UK, and one in eight British women will developing it in their lifetime. However, the chances of beating breast cancer are improving, with more than eight out of ten people surviving the disease beyond five years and 75 per cent of people surviving beyond 10 years.

Mr Nicolas Beechey-Newman, consultant breast surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, explains breast cancer and how to spot the signs:

Do all breasts and nipples look and feel the same?

“Most women do have some degree of general lumpiness and this is totally normal. However, age plays a significant factor as breast lumpiness fades as you get older, so it’s especially important for women who have experienced the menopause, to have any suspicious lumps checked. For all women it’s all about getting to know your own breasts so that any change is recognised quickly.”

How do I check my breasts, and how often? 

“Once a month. The best time to check your breasts is when your oestrogen levels are at their lowest, which is just at the end of your period. Feel your breasts with the tips of your fingers, preferably lying down. Try doing this in the bath. Make sure you check systematically so you don’t miss out any areas, for example, behind your nipple.”

What are the different types of breast cancer? 

“Most breast cancer is a fairly obvious, usually a hard lump. However, other types of breast cancer include lobular breast cancer, which accounts for about 10 per cent of all breast cancers and causes a thickening of the breast tissue as opposed to a lump, and inflammatory breast cancer which causes painful swelling and redness to the skin like an infection.”

I’ve been referred to a breast clinic. What will happen now?

“When you go to a breast clinic you will be either be seen by a doctor or a specialist nurse. Most women will undergo an ultrasound scan, which is a picture formed by the reflection of sound waves that often show possible cancer lumps as darker areas because they have less internal structure compared to normal breast tissue. Women over the age of 40 will also be offered a mammogram, an X-ray which highlights any particularly dense tissue.

“If a solid lump is identified, then a needle test will also be recommended. There are two types of needle test; the most common is a core needle biopsy, which takes a small amount of breast tissue for analysis. An FNA is a smaller needle which just takes individual cells, but in most cases is less accurate than a core biopsy.”

My son/husband/partner has a painful swollen breast. What is this?

“All men have some breast tissue just underneath the nipple, this is entirely normal. However, the breast tissue can sometimes swell in a process known as gynaecomasti. This is due to a natural change in hormones. This can happen at any age and is entirely normal, but there is also a small risk that these cells can become cancerous. However, in men, other factors make it much less likely for breast tissue to become malignant. Breast cancer in men is rare, for every 100 women with breast cancer, one man develops breast cancer.”

Can an injury to the breasts cause breast cancer?

“No, injuries cannot cause breast cancer. Experts don’t know what causes breast cancer but most believe it to be a combination of genes, hormones, lifestyle and environmental factors as well as bad luck. Having said that, if you develop a bruise on your breast without sustaining an injury it is always worth having the bruise checked out as breast cancer can cause a spontaneous bruise.”

Is there a link between Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and a risk of breast cancer?

“There is a well-recognised link between HRT and the risk of breast cancer. This is dependent on how long you take HRT, as essentially the longer you take it, the greater the risk. If you’ve been on HRT for a prolonged period, I would recommend a mammogram every year.”

Will taking the contraceptive pill increase my risk of breast cancer?

“The contraceptive pill carries a very low risk of developing breast cancer. This risk disappears within five years of a woman coming off the pill.”

Fund life-saving research

To make a donation to Cancer UK’s life-saving research into breast cancer visit

Throughout October, you can also choose from a fantastic range of limited-edition pink kitchenware products from The Pampered Chef ( online and at in-home cooking shows across the UK. One pound will be donated to the charity from the sale of each product.

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