I know I should check my breasts regularly, but what should I look out for?
It is important for you to become familiar with how your breasts look and feel at different times of the month and know what is normal for you. Whatever your age, size or shape, it is important to take care of your breasts. If you are concerned about anything unusual with your breast you should make an appointment with your GP who can either reassure you or refer you for an appointment. It is also important that you attend for breast screening when invited by the National Cancer Screening Service.
- A change in size, shape or swelling of the breast: one breast may become larger than the other.
- Changes in the nipple: in direction or shape, pulled in or flattened, or unusual discharge.
- Changes on or around the nipple: a rash, flaky or crusted skin.
- Changes in the skin: dimpling, puckering or redness.
- Swelling in your armpit or around the collarbone.
- A lump, any size, or thickening in your breast.
- Constant pain in one part of the breast or armpit.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
If you are referred to the Specialist Breast Centre for tests by your GP, you will most likely have a combination of the following tests before a diagnosis can be confirmed:
- Mammogram is a low dose x-ray used to take pictures of the breast. Each breast is x-rayed from the side and from the top by a professionally trained radiographer. Screening mammograms are performed on a routine basis on women to detect breast cancer at an early stage, before it has been discovered by a woman or her GP.
- Breast ultrasound is used when something suspicious has been detected during a mammogram or self-examination. Sound waves are used to create images of the inside of your breast on a monitor. Ultrasound imaging is helpful for determining the precise location of a breast lump and whether the lump is solid or filled with fluid.
- Fine needle aspiration is where a fine needle is inserted into the breast lump and the surgeon attempts to withdraw fluid. If fluid is removed and the lump disappears, no further testing or treatment will be required. If fluid appears but the lump does not go away, or if no fluid can be removed, further tests and treatment will be required.
- Breast biopsy is where a small amount of tissue is re/moved from a breast lump, if it is found during your ultrasound that the lump is solid. This will then be tested in a laboratory and the results discussed with you.
I’ve been told that I have breast cancer. How common is it?
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in Ireland, affecting over 2,000 women in Ireland every year. Male breast cancer is very rare; but there are approximately 20 men diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
When you family member come to us for your diagnosis and treatment we hope that we can take at least one worry in relation to your care. Our Specialist Breast Centre is the largest specialist cancer service in a private hospital in Ireland. You are in good hands.
Is there more than one type of breast cancer?
Yes there is. Breast cancer can occur in different parts of the breasts such as the ducts, lobules or in some cases in between tissue. It includes the following types:
- DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ
- LCIS – lobular carcinoma in situ
- IDC – invasive ductal carcinoma
- ILC – invasive lobular carcinoma
IDC less common types:
- Paget’s disease of the nipple
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Recurrent and metastatic breast cancer
What treatment options are available?
There are a range of treatment options including radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. Your oncology team will tailor your treatment to your particular needs and will discuss the side effects and impact of each option with you.
Chemotherapy is a treatment which uses drugs to destroy cancer cells in the body by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells.
Depending on the type of cancer and the stage it is at, chemotherapy is used to:
- Cure cancer - by destroying cancer cells so they are no longer detected in your body.
- Control cancer - by keeping cancer from spreading, slowing its growth, or destroying cancer cells that has spread to other parts of your body.
- Ease cancer symptoms - when chemotherapy is used to shrink tumors that are causing pain or discomfort.
Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and dividing. Radiotherapy is a local treatment which targets cancer cells in the treated area and can be given inside the body (internally) or outside the body (externally).
Male Breast Cancer
Breast cancer in men is not common with less than 1% of all breast cancers occurring in men. Therefore most studies of men with breast cancer are very small.
Men and women both have breast tissue. The difference between the breast tissue in men and women comes down to the presence of hormones. In women, there are various hormones in the body which stimulate the breast tissue to grow into full breasts. In comparison, men normally don't make many of these breast-stimulating hormones, resulting in their breast tissue staying flat and small. However, there are some men with medium-sized or bigger breasts but generally these breasts are only collections of fat.
There are times when men develop actual breast gland tissue, most usually because they are taking particular medicines or have abnormal hormone levels.