There are a number of factors that can influence the likelihood of getting breast cancer, including age and family history. Having a close family member diagnosed with breast cancer almost doubles the risk, and those with a family history of ovarian cancer have an increased risk too. Additionally, being overweight or obese can increase the chances of developing breast cancer by 30%, and the excessive use of alcohol can increase the risk too. Those with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer or a previous benign breast lump are also considered higher risk.
Breast cancer can have a number of symptoms, but the most common and first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue. Most breast lumps aren’t cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by your doctor. Other symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- An eczema-like rash on or around the nipple
- Discharge from the nipple, which may be streaked with blood
- Dimpling on the skin of the breasts
- A change in the appearance of the nipple, such as becoming inverted
- A swelling or lump in the armpit
There are several different types of breast cancer. The most common is invasive breast cancer, which usually develops in the cells that line the breast ducts. The second most common is non-invasive breast cancer, which is found in the ducts of the breast. Other less common types include invasive and pre-invasive lobular breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer and Paget’s disease of the breast.
Diagnosis and treatment
If your GP suspects breast cancer they will refer you to a specialist breast cancer centre for further tests such as a mammogram or a biopsy. As with many cancers, the earlier it’s detected, the more successful treatment will be – and if it is detected at an early stage, it can be treated before it spreads.
Breast cancer is treated using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Surgery is usually the first type of treatment, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or in some cases, hormone or biological treatments. The type of surgery and treatment will depend on the type of breast cancer. There are several factors which will influence the recommended course of treatment, including what stage the cancer is at, the age, general health and menopausal status of the patient, as well as more technical factors such as inherited genes, mutations, hormone receptors, genomic markets and HER2 status.
For smaller tumours, doctors will generally recommend lumpectomy surgery to remove the tumour as well as a margin of healthy tissue surrounding it in order to try and remove any microscopic cancerous cells that remain. For larger tumours, doctors may recommend chemotherapy or pre-surgery hormonal therapy in an attempt to shrink the tumour before removal. These types of tumours may involve a mastectomy.
Post surgery, therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiotherapy and hormonal therapy are used in an attempt to get rid of any leftover calls and lower the risk of recurrence.
Who treats it
Doctors treating cancer are specialists in the wider field of oncology. There are 62 cancer centres in the UK, and according to a recent report, there were 64 unfilled oncology posts within these centres. People with breast cancer are treated by a multidisciplinary team of specialists who work together to provide the right care and treatment. This team includes but isn’t limited to:
Trained in general surgery, a specialist cancer surgeon will be trained in general surgery and have additional training in the field of oncology.
An oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer using chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy or other medications. They manage care and treatment once a patient has been diagnosed, and their role includes explaining the diagnosis, discussing relevant treatment options, and helping to manage pain.
A radiologist is a doctor who specialises in treating cancers using radiation. They will work together with the oncologist to decide on the best course of treatment.
A pathologist is a specialist who studies the causes of diseases and examines body tissues. Every time someone has a lump removed, a histopathologist will analyse it to identify whether or not there is cancer present and work together with the team to help diagnose and treat breast cancer.
A team of specialist nurses such as oncology nurses and surgical nurses will work with doctors to deliver care and provide support to the patient.
With over 25 years of experience in medical fieldwork, GKA has a wealth of knowledge in a number of therapy areas, including breast cancer market research. We have conducted 56 specialist healthcare research projects within the area of breast cancer in the last few years alone, and have successfully recruited oncologists, surgeons, KOLs, patients and breast cancer nurses for a range of medical fieldwork projects. Our panel includes 707 oncologists, 32 radiologists, 106 pathologists, and 296 specialist nurses. Some recent examples include the successful recruitment of 60 oncologists for a field study and five metastatic breast cancer patients for a telephone interview.