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Breast Cancer Questions

Our team of breast cancer specialists have put together a set of commonly asked breast cancer questions and answers for you along with information about the specific breast screening services offered by BreastHealthUK.

If you can’t find the answer to any of your breast cancer questions please contact us. One of our team will be happy to help.

Q. How often should I check my breasts?

You should check your breasts on a monthly basis so that you become aware of any changes. You can set up an email reminder through our self-examination reminder service to prompt you to check your breasts. You can also get more information about self-examination and see a video on how to check your breasts on our breast self-examination page.

Q. At what age can I have a mammogram?

Mammograms can be performed on women who are 35 years old and above. For women under the age of 50, a mammogram is not as successful at detecting breast cancers due to the more dense breast tissue found in younger women. Women between the ages of 35 and 50 with a family history of breast cancer may benefit from annual mammography . For women over 50, a mammogram has a sensitivity (chance of detecting breast cancer) of around 85%.

Q. One of my relatives had breast cancer. How do I find out if I am at risk?

BreastHealthUK offers a number of services to help you understand your risk including:

  • Online breast cancer risk assessment that will provide an initial analysis. Your results will be discussed with you by one of our practice managers.

  • You can make an appointment with a genetic counsellor to discuss your situation.

  • You can undertake a full BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic test to identify if you carry a breast cancer gene. Watch our videos about genetic testing on the BRCA page.

Q. Can I have a mammogram if I have had breast implants?

Yes you can although breast implants can obscure the image so there may be a requirement to carry out other tests such as MRI or breast ultrasound.

Q. Can men get breast cancer?

Yes they can. Whilst rare, there are about 400 cases of male breast cancer diagnosed in the UK every year. Full information about the symptoms, detection and treatment of male breast cancer can be found on the male breast cancer page.

Q. I have discharge from my nipple, should I be worried?

A lot of women can squeeze some discharge from their nipples, particularly if they have had children, and discharge can be caused by many things causes including duct ectasia. Bloodstained nipple discharge is rarely a sign of breast cancer (approx. 5%). However, if you have discharge without squeezing or the discharge is blood-stained you are advised to consult your GP or contact us for an immediate breast assessment.

Q. Can I get a genetic test for breast cancer?

Yes you can. BreastHealth UK offers a complete genetic testing service including counselling for people with a family history of breast cancer. This can range from a simple breast cancer risk assessment to full BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene testing. Please see our BRCA page for more information.

Q. Can benign cysts become cancerous?

Cysts are common in women and rarely turn into cancer but you should ensure that what you think is a cyst, is actually a cyst. This is done by breast ultrasound +/- cyst aspiration under local anaesthesia. If you find a new lump that does not disappear within two weeks, even if you have a past history of breast cysts, you should attend a breast clinic for further investigations.

Q. What treatment is available for breast cancer?

There are many treatments for breast cancer including surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone/drug therapy. The treatment your doctor prescribes will depend on the type of breast cancer you have and how far the disease has progressed.

Q. What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The typical symptoms of breast cancer in women include:

  • A new lump or thickening in an area of the breast

  • Bloody discharge from the nipple

  • Dimpling of the skin on the breast

  • A new change in the nipple including it becoming inverted or changing shape

  • A lump or swelling in the armpit

  • A change in the shape or size of your breast

  • A rash on the nipple or surrounding area

  • For men, symptoms are very similar but please refer to our male breast cancer page for full details.

Q. What are the benefits of breast cancer screening?

There is no doubt that early detection of breast cancer saves lives. Breast screening can detect cancers in their early stages leading to better outcomes, less surgery and reduced requirement for treatments following surgery. See our page about the benefits of breast cancer screening for more information.

Q. If I have breast cancer, will I have to have my breast removed?

Not necessarily. In the majority of cases it is possible to remove the tumour without removing the entire breast (a wide excision or lumpectomy) and then treating with radiotherapy. This will depend on the size and location of the cancer. There will be some cases where mastectomy is still required but, in the vast majority of cases, breast reconstruction can be offered at the same time as mastectomy.

Q. How can I reduce my risk of breast cancer?

There are thought to be a number of lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk of breast cancer including:

  • Reducing alcohol intake

  • Weight reduction in postmenopausal women if overweight or obese

  • Breast feeding

  • Being physically active

  • Avoiding long term hormone replacement therapy during the menopause

  • Avoiding exposure to radiation sources

Q. What is the life expectancy of someone with breast cancer?

That will depend on a number of factors related to the exact type of breast cancer and how far the tumour has spread. The good news is that breast cancer survival rates have improved significantly over the last few years due to earlier detection and more targeted treatment options with 10-year relative survival rates close to 80%, and 20-year survival of approximately 67%.

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