Not sure what breast cancer is? Getting confused with all the information out there? Here’s some handy information, which will hopefully answer some of your questions. It’s important to remember that if you do have any concerns about your health, please go and see a GP.
We could call it all sorts of mean names, couldn’t we. But scientifically speaking, what is it? Well, Your body is made up of 100 million million cells. Cancer can start when just one of them begins to grow and multiply too much. The result is a growth called a tumour. If the cells from tumours cannot spread, then the tumours are benign, they are not cancerous and can usually be removed. Much more serious are malignant tumours, which invade the surrounding body tissues. These cancer cells are likely to spread if the tumour is not treated.
What causes cancer?
Many factors such as smoking or too much exposure to the sun can trigger DNA damage – leading to a faster changes to the cells which lead to cancer.
A family history of cancer can also increase chances of getting the disease, because it usually means that person starts their life already having inherited some of the DNA mutations that take them down the path to cancer. The biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer is increasing age. Most cases develop in women over the age of 50 BUT that doesn’t mean you get away with no thinking about it now. Getting to know your body and looking after it whilst you are young could protect you in years to come. Even when in remission, those who have had the disease have a higher risk of it developing again. In most cases however, the exact cause is not yet known.
What’s it like to have breast cancer?
This is a question you can only answer if you have breast cancer yourself. This is because it affects everyone differently, and not every breast cancer will be treated the same way because there are in fact many types of the disease. Side effects from the treatments may be worse for some people, whilst others find the emotional impact harder. It’s so important to remember that breast cancer can be treated successfully if found early, which means you can live a long and happy life beyond the disease.
If you fancy reading Kris’s experience of the disease, pop along to her blog here. She has secondary breast cancer, which means it can not be cured as it has spread beyond her boob, to other parts of her body. Our friends at Breast Cancer Care have all the help you may need when it comes to being diagnosed with the disease. Go and say hello to them here.
What are the treatments for breast cancer?
The treatments for cancer depend on the type of cancer you have, the stage at which it was diagnosed (how far it has spread), your age, your current health, and additional personal characteristics. There is no single treatment for cancer and patients often receive a combination of therapies and palliative care. Treatments typically fall into one of these categories: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, or gene therapy.
Some people also like to add complimentary therapies to the mix too, such as massages, reflexology or reiki. Your hospital may offer these, but some external hospices, such as Marie Curie Cancer Care can help you too.
Reduce your risk
Did you know that over half of cancers could be prevented if we change our lifestyles? That includes the food we eat.
We hear this a lot, about every health condition under the sun, BUT it’s a fact that women who eat a low-fat diet have lower levels of female hormones in their blood – and this reduces the risk of breast cancer, especially in the years after the menopause when body fat is the richest source of oestrogen. There is also some evidence that the earlier you start, the greater the impact. Wise up about the foods you eat, it’s good to get into the habit of eating well, no matter how old you are.
Be a sensible drinker
According to Cancer Research UK, drinking raises the risk of developing breast cancer – but only minimally, unless you’re consuming seriously unhealthy amounts of booze. In a review of the evidence published in 2013, it says that, by the age of 80, the number of women who will develop breast cancer will be 8.8 out of 100 if they don’t drink at all, 10.1 if they have two drinks a day, and 13.3 if they have six drinks a day. Here’s an idea, instead of going to the pub tonight, stay in and get to know your boobs. It’s just as fun.
Everyone needs to exercise but it’s particularly important for those at high risk of breast cancer. Recent research showed a reduction in the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer in women who spent a minimum of three hours a week exercising from their teenage years onwards. And, once you’re past the menopause, the importance of exercise becomes even more crucial. Post-menopausal women who are overweight and exercising are at lower risk than those who are overweight and not exercising. Those who are a healthy weight and exercising are at lower risk than women who are a healthy weight but not exercising. It’s that simple.
Be assertive with your GP
We can’t prove a link between standing up for your own health and breast cancer rates, but our own evidence shows that three quarters of young women that notice a change in their boobs don’t get it checked out and only a third would immediately go to their doctor if they suspected early signs of breast cancer. A delay in diagnosis could affect the outcome of your treatment. You may already notice that we bang on about this a lot, but please, if you notice something that’s not right for you, go get it checked out. You know your body better than anyone. Ok. That will be the last time we say it, until…the next time.
Here are some titbits of what to expect from you GP visit.
Know your family history
Thanks to Angelina Jolie we’re all talking about our family history of breast cancer and whether or not we should go get our genetics tested.
Most cases of breast cancer occur by chance. However, breast cancer does occur more often than usual in some families because of their genetic make-up. Genetic means that the condition is passed on through families through special codes inside cells called genes.
Breast Cancer Care can fill you in on what a ‘significant family history’ is and what actions can be taken. If you need further advice, our friends at the Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline are always at the end of a phone.
It’s important to remember that most of the women who do develop breast cancer do not have a strong family history of the disease so even if no members of your family have had the disease, you could still be diagnosed at some stage, therefore it’s always good to get into the habit of checking your boobs.
Have regular mammograms
There are experts who claim that having a mammogram puts you at an increased risk of over-diagnosis and unnecessary treatment and therefore is not worthwhile. Most experts, however, do say that one set of statistics should be your guide: mammography has so far detected 117,000 cancers, saving around 1,250 lives every year and bringing a 35% reduction in mortality in the 50 to 69 year age group.
It’s worth being in that group even if it means having a somewhat unpleasant test every three years. It’s also worth bearing in mind that a positive mammogram is only the first step in a diagnostic procedure that involves a number of checks and tests before treatment is considered.
Is it time you reminded your Mum or your Grandma to go to hers?
Women over 70 are no longer offered mammograms but that doesn’t mean they will be denied one. If you are over 70, or know someone that is, make sure you talk to them about this. Healthy boob chats with your grandma could save her life!
“All lumps are cancerous”
Most breast changes, including lumps, aren’t cancer, but it’s important to get them checked out by your GP. If it is cancer, nine out of 10 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage survive.
“You can catch cancer like a cold”
That’s a big fat lie. Cancer is something that happens with your cells which can’t be caught off another person. But that’s not an excuse not to wash your hands after you’ve used the loo, mind.
“Deodorants give you breast cancer”
There is no conclusive research linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the development of breast cancer.
“Cancer makes you lose your hair”
It’s not the actual cancer that makes your hair fall out, it’s the type of chemotherapy to treat the cancer that does. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells as well as some of your healthy living ones, which means your hair follicles no longer have the power to keep your hair in. However, not all chemotherapies have this effect.
“Having cancer is a death sentence”
Believe it or not, there are thousands of people living with cancer in the world.
“Only Mums and Grandmas get cancer”
Come on now, you’re on CoppaFeel!’s website so I am sure you already know that that ain’t true!
“Only girls get breast cancer”
Boys, listen up, you have breast tissue too. Which means you too can get breast cancer. It’s important to check your pecks, as well as your balls. About 400 men are diagnosed in the UK every year.
“It’s not in my family so I won’t get breast cancer”
Not all breast cancers are genetic, in fact less than 10% are. Therefore, you guessed it, it’s good to get to know your boobs.
“Keeping your mobile phone in your bra gives you breast cancer”
False: Currently, there is no firm evidence that keeping a mobile phone in your bra will increase your risk of developing breast cancer. But, seriously, who keeps their phone in their bra anyway?
Have more questions? Maybe our mates can help you further…
Breast Cancer Care
Our pals at Breast Cancer Care do what it says on the tin, they care about people going through breast cancer.
There’s a wealth of information on CRUK’s website. Go check it out.
There for anyone affected by this disease.
Marie Curie Cancer Care
The same hospice our founder Kris attends (she loves a good foot massage).
Breast Cancer Now
A recent merge between Breakthrough and Breast Cancer Campaign. They hope that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live.
Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline
They know everything and anything there is to know about hereditary breast cancer and genetic tests.