October is Breast Cancer awareness month, and Glasgow Medical Rooms will be wearing pink and raising money for Breast Cancer Care on Friday 14 October. In females in the UK, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer, with 150 cases diagnosed every day.
As a doctor, I get a lot of concerned patients asking me about the cancer, and I’ve posted a few of the most common questions I get asked.
- What are the common symptoms/changes?
Breast cancer can present as a lump, a nipple discharge, dimpling of the skin, crusting of the nipple or change in direction of the nipple.
- How often should I check myself?
This should be done at least monthly but can be done more frequently when getting dressed, in the shower or having a bath. Follow the guidance TLC- Touch, Look and Check -feel your breasts and report any changes. 1 in 7 women aged 50-70 who attend routine mammograms never check their breasts for signs of cancer outside of these appointments.
- When should I check myself?
At least once a month – A good time is after a period if you’re still menstruating.
- I have nipple discharge – is that a danger sign?
You should see your GP if you have nipple discharge without squeezing your nipple. They may refer you to your local breast clinic. Nipple discharge in one or both breasts can happen for several reasons. Most women, especially if they’ve ever been pregnant, can squeeze some discharge out of their nipples. The discharge can be whitish, yellow-green or almost black. However, it’s not a good idea to squeeze your nipples. Nipple discharge is usually harmless. It’s most often due to a benign (not cancer) breast condition, such as duct ectasia or an intraductal papilloma, which may or may not need further treatment once it’s been diagnosed.
Sometimes nipple discharge can be a symptom of breast cancer, particularly if it’s bloodstained.
- How common is it for men to have breast cancer?
It’s much less common in men than women, with only around 1 new case of breast cancer diagnosed for every 100,000 men (about 350 to 400 cases) in the UK each year.
- How long do I need to wait for an appointment at a breast clinic?
If it’s an urgent referral (such as if there are concerns that it may be cancer) it’s usually approximately 1-2 weeks but it can be up to 4 weeks if a routine referral (i.e. low risk of cancer).
- What happens at a breast clinic?
At the clinic, you’ll be seen first by a doctor or specialist nurse. They will ask about your symptoms, any family history of breast cancer and any medication you’re taking.
You’ll then have a breast examination. Both breasts will be checked, first with you sitting, then lying down. The lymph glands (nodes) in your armpits will be checked too.
You may need further tests such as:
- A mammogram (breast x-ray)
- An ultrasound scan
- A fine needle aspiration (FNA)
- A core biopsy.
You may have all the tests you need at this first visit and get the results the same day. Or you may need another appointment for the tests or to get your results, usually about a week later. This varies with each breast clinic.
- What are the identified risk factors for breast cancer?
– Lack of physical activity
– Oestrogen-progestogen contraceptives
– Oestrogen-progestogen menopausal therapy
– Exposure to x-rays
If you have concerns, or have found anything in a monthly self check, then speak to your doctor, and read up any online resources, such as here.
Dr Sheila O’Neill is a general practitioner with over 20 years of experience, and founder of the Glasgow Medical Rooms.
For further information or to make an appointment, please contact 0141 225 0140.