Did you know that nearly 46,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year – one person every 11 minutes? Or that men, in rare cases, can also develop the disease? These are just some of the facts being highlighted this month during Breast Cancer Awareness Month by charity Breast Cancer Care.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with around one in nine women developing the disease at some point. It occurs when cells in the breast divide and multiply abnormally quickly. If these cells spread to other parts of the body, secondary cancer can appear in other body organs – this is called metastatic breast cancer.
There are several types of breast cancer. The most common one, which has been reported to account for around 80 per cent of all cases of the disease, is invasive ductal breast cancer. It develops in the cells that line the breast ducts.
The earlier breast cancer is identified, the more likely that treatment will be successful, so it is vital for women to check their breasts regularly for any signs of the disease.
Breast cancer symptom checklist:
- Changes in breast size and shape
- A new lump or thickening in one breast or armpit
- Changes in skin texture such as puckering, redness/soreness or dimpling
- Changes to the nipple such as becoming pulled in, changing shape, pointing differently or a rash appearing
- Discharge from one or both nipples that is not milky
- Constant pain in the breast or armpit
- Swelling under the armpit or around the collarbone
As a doctor herself, 44-year-old Agata Dworak Kula of Cookridge, Leeds, knew how important it was to visit her GP when she noticed changes in her right breast in January this year. A patch of skin had become dimpled, and, when she examined the area, Agata discovered a lump about 2.5cm across. Agata’s GP immediately referred her Leeds General Infirmary where she underwent a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Within two weeks, breast cancer had been diagnosed.
Facing a month’s wait before treatment would begin, Agata decided to have her treatment privately at Spire Leeds Hospital. Two days later, she went to see consultant breast and reconstructive breast surgeon Mr Philip Turton, who decided on an innovative course of treatment.
Mr Turton advised Agata to undergo a six-month course of chemotherapy prior to surgery. Although not suitable for treating every case of breast cancer, Mr Turton felt that in Agata’s case, the chemotherapy would reduce the size of her tumour enough to allow the mastectomy (breast removal) and breast reconstruction to be carried out during a single operation, which would be of great benefit to her. The chemotherapy treatment was delivered by Dr Timothy Perren, consultant oncologist at SpireLeedsHospital.
During Agata’s chemotherapy course, regular MRI scans enabled Dr Perren to keep track of and modify the treatment when necessary to help get the best results.
By August, Agata was ready for her surgery, and Mr Turton carried out the mastectomy. As the chemotherapy had been so effective, he was able to keep all of her own breast skin to enhance the reconstruction. He also removed all of Agata’s lymph nodes on the right side as a precaution, since the cancer was found to have spread to two of them, which could have allowed it to move into other parts of the body.
During the same operation, Mr Turton reconstructed Agata’s breast using muscle from her back (called a latissimus dorsi flap). He plans to reconstruct Agata’s nipple at the end of this year, once the breast has had a chance to settle.
Agata stayed in hospital for six days and commented of her treatment: “The pain was managed very well, and the doctors and nurses were excellent – someone was always available straight away if I needed anything. Even the food was good!”
Agata says: “I was very lucky to have Mr Turton and Dr Perren as my consultants – they’ve done a wonderful job and were very supportive. I’m so pleased with how my reconstructed breast looks – my girl friends who have seen it are really impressed! The nursing staff also really helped to reassure me, and the chemo team are almost like family now – they do such a good job.”
Spire Leeds Hospital has produced a mini-guide on carrying out breast examinations which can be hooked onto a wardrobe door. Free guides are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.