male breast cancer

What you need to know about male breast cancer

Breast cancer isn’t just a woman’s disease – men can get it too and although there have been many breast cancer awareness campaigns, the majority of them aren’t targeted at men. While male breast cancer in men is a very rare occurrence – one in 1,000 men are likely to contract it over their lifetime, compared to 1 in 8 for women – it still can occur, and it can be just as dangerous.

However, while men are becoming more aware of prostate and testicular cancer, the stigmas around male breast cancer still persist. So let’s break down some of the facts about male breast cancer.

How can men have breast cancer when they don’t have breasts?

Because men also have breast tissue. From birth until puberty, males actually have the same amount of breast tissue as their female counterparts – it’s only when hormonal changes kick in that things start to change for women and stay the same for men. Breast tissue can still swell in males, in certain cases, but gynaecomastia (as it’s known) has no link to breast cancer.

What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?

Symptoms include:

  • A hard, painless lump in the breast area
  • An inverted nipple
  • Discharge from the nipple (which may or may not be streaked with blood)
  • Soreness and/or a rash around the nipple

Having any of these symptoms does not automatically mean you’re suffering from breast cancer, but it’s vital that you check in with your GP, particularly if you have a lump in the breast area, have nipple discharge and have a close family history of breast cancer.

What causes male breast cancer?

While it’s difficult to pinpoint clear links between certain behaviours and male breast cancer, certain signifiers include:

  • Family history and genes, namely in instances where faulty versions of genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been inherited, which increase the risk of breast cancer
  • Medicines that increase the amount of oestrogen taken into the body, such as hormone treatments which are sometimes used to treat prostate cancer
  • Obesity and the development of cirrhosis through drinking
  • Previous exposure to radiotherapy in the chest area

How is male breast cancer treated?

There is a range of treatments available, depending on how advanced the condition is. Possible treatments include a mastectomy, which will involve the removal of the affected breast tissue and nipple, as well as the possible removal of certain glands in the armpit. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are also possible options.

Is male breast cancer survivable?

Like other cancers, the answer is yes – as long as the cancer is detected early enough. If caught at an early stage, a full recovery is possible. So, although male breast cancer may be much rarer, it is important to raise awareness of the condition as increased knowledge can make the difference between early intervention and a more challenging treatment journey.

beat breast cancer

New Year’s Resolutions: what you can do in 2019 to fight off breast cancer

If you’re already thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions, you’ll be pleased to hear that a lot of the traditional pledges we make at this time of year correspond nicely with increasing your chances of avoiding breast cancer.

While there are certain risk factors – such as family history – that you can’t do anything about, there are a lot of lifestyle modifications that you can make that will not only make you feel healthier (and in certain cases, wealthier), but will also reduce the risk of breast cancer.

New Year’s Resolution: cut down your alcohol intake

The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. Simple as that. According to medical studies on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk, the general recommendation is that you should aim to cut down your intake to less than one drink a day, as even small amounts of alcohol will increase the risk.

New Year’s Resolution: if you’re smoking, quit now

We all know the link between smoking and cancer, but while the focus is always on lung cancer, there has been evidence of a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women.

New Year’s Resolution: keep an eye on your weight

It’s a medical fact that being overweight or obese will increase your risk of breast cancer, particularly as you age and especially after menopause. Recent studies claim that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, may be a factor in reducing the risk of breast cancer. Essentially, switching to healthy fats such as olive oil over butter and eating fish instead of red meat can bring on a serious health boost.

New Year’s Resolution: get more physically active

The goal for most healthy adults should be at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week. In other words, time to sort out a gym membership.

In a large-scale UK study published earlier this year, scientists at Cardiff University analysed data from UK Biobank, an ongoing health study of 500,000 adults. Using information provided on lifestyle behaviours, such as low alcohol consumption, not smoking, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight and eating a good diet, they found that those who adopted all five healthy behavioural patterns had a 35 percent reduction in breast cancer risk.

So, with over 80 percent of New Year’s Resolutions failing by February, this could be the extra incentive to make long-term lifestyle changes.

breastfeeding and breast cancer

US doctors pushed to spread the word about breastfeeding reducing the risk of breast cancer

We know the benefits that breastfeeding offers to mothers and babies – that it plays an important role in the health of their newborn baby and has been linked to the improvement in avoiding infant mortality, infections and making a vital contribution to the baby’s overall wellbeing. There are also pronounced benefits for the mother as well: a woman who breastfeeds burns an estimated 500 calories a day, equivalent to a three-mile run.

But according to a medical centre in America, one vital health benefit is being underplayed: the link between breastfeeding and breast cancer. And the people who put the study together feel that that needs to change.

What we know about breastfeeding and breast cancer

According to a pooled analysis of data culled from 47 different studies in the US, there is a definite link between breastfeeding and improving the odds of not developing breast cancer. The mass study concluded that mothers who breastfed for a year over their lifetime (whether it be for one or more baby) were slightly less likely to get breast cancer compared to mothers who had never breastfed.

Furthermore, mothers who breastfed for a lifetime total of two years got about twice the benefit of those who breastfed for a total of one year, and mothers who breastfed for a lifetime total of more than two years got the most benefit.

Too many women kept in the dark

There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, but according to a study conducted by the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, a mere 59 percent of women who had already given birth were aware of the link between breastfeeding and a reduction in breast cancer.

Amongst women questioned in the study who did breastfeed and were aware of the link, 38 percent claimed that this knowledge influenced their decision. Most importantly, when the women in the study who had not breastfed were asked if awareness of the link would have caused them to switch from bottle to breast, nearly 60 percent claimed that if they had known, it would have influenced their decision to breastfeed.

Online communities are more effective than health bodies?

When the study team delved into how women had discovered the benefits of breastfeeding in helping to fend off cancer, they were surprised to discover that a mere 16 percent of women had received this news from their doctor or GP when they were pregnant or recovering from childbirth – and online forums and groups are just as effective in spreading the news. As we know, the internet community is just as good in spreading misinformation as it is the truth, and people are far more likely to listen to a medical professional than a random on Facebook, as the study team were very keen to stress that. But it’s clear that doctors, GPs, midwives and medical bodies are missing a trick here.

We all know that breastfeeding is a personal and sometimes complicated decision, with all manner of factors coming in to play. And while we know that not all mothers can breastfeed, or have valid reasons why they choose not to, it makes sense that every pregnant woman is given the full picture of the potential benefits, so they can make a more informed decision.

breast check

British women are falling out of the breast check habit

A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Breast Cancer Now charity brought the alarming news that a mere 48% of British women regularly check their breasts for signs of cancer at least once a month – and almost one in ten had never checked their breasts at all. That means that an estimated 10.5 million women in Britain are putting their health at risk.

According to the survey, which was released last month, most of the women surveyed were aware that a lump was a possible signifier, but only 58% could name three or more common breast cancer symptoms. Couple this with the statistic that 72% of all breast cancers are detected by women who self-examine, and it’s obvious that falling out of the self-check habit is not advisable.

“It is extremely concerning that so many women are not checking their breasts regularly and that many others are not sure what to look for,” said Eluned Hughes, the head of public health for Breast Cancer Now. “It’s so important that all women are breast aware, as the earlier the disease is detected, the more likely treatment is to be successful. Checking your breasts only takes a few minutes. There is no special technique – you can do it whenever suits you – in the shower or waiting for the kettle to boil.”

So, if you’ve fallen out of the habit – or not even got into it in the first place – it makes sense to run down the very simple procedure of performing a breast check.

Get a side angle

Look for lumps in your breasts by standing in front of a mirror side-on, with your arms by your side, and then with arms raised.

Feel for lumps

The best method is to feel each breast and both armpits up to the collarbone area. It may be more convenient to do this in the bath or shower, with soapy hands.

Don’t forget the other breast cancer symptoms

Make sure you check for;

  • a change in size, outline or shape of your breast
  • puckering or dimpling of the skin
  • a new lump or bump in a breast or armpit
  • discharge or bleeding from the nipple
  • any change in nipple position, or the nipple being pulled inside the breast or pointing differently
  • a rash or a moist red area around the nipple which does not heal easily.

If you detect any of these breast cancer symptoms, it makes sense to check in with your GP. It may not be a sign of breast cancer, but it certainly won’t be a waste of anyone’s time and will be a weight off your mind.

If there’s a lump, don’t panic

Lumps can be a common (and natural) occurrence in breasts, and when medically investigated, nine out of ten breast lumps turn to be not cancerous. And the sooner a cancer is detected, the better chance you have of eliminating it. It makes sense to get into the breast-check habit, and – this time – stick to it.

mammogram results

Your first mammogram: what to expect

A mammogram is an extremely routine procedure that is offered to all women aged between 50 and 70 every three years in the UK. You haven’t been singled out for one because your GP is worried that you may have breast cancer – it’s because you’re one of the 2.5 million plus women in the UK who fall in the age range and are due for a mammogram.

You are within your rights to refuse a screening, but never forget that a mammogram is for your benefit – it’s an opportunity to detect any cancers which are less than 15mm in diameter and are therefore too small to detect by hand. And yes – the mammographer will be female.

If you are under the age of 40 and are concerned about any changes to your breasts or have a family history of breast cancer, your GP may refer you for a mammogram at any time. Alternatively, you can arrange a mammogram privately at a breast cancer care clinic.

Make sure you arrive before your appointment time

Naturally, because so many women have been invited for a screening, it’s essential that you don’t arrive late. If you do miss your time slot, and there’s a queue, you may be in for a longer wait than you anticipated – or may have to reschedule.

Be prepared

Avoid lotions, cream or talc on the breast area. Talc can often show up on the screening images, and the former two are harder to compress when they’re slippery. To ensure a quick and easy procedure, long hair should be tied back, and as you’ll be required to strip to the waist, tops are more convenient than dresses.

If you have sensitive breasts, it may be an idea to take a couple of painkillers an hour or so before your appointment. If the appointment falls just before your period and you suffer from pre-menstrual breast sensitivity, you may want to reschedule your screening for later on.

Express your concerns

The people who will conduct the breast screening procedure will know nothing of your medical history, so when you get to the screening site, you will have your details checked out – including how many mammograms you’ve had before (if any), and any problems you’d encountered with your breasts. This is the time to let them know if there’s anything they should be aware of – if you have breast implants, or a pacemaker, for example.

The procedure

When you’re finally called through, your details will be checked one more time, and then a series of four X-rays will be taken: two on each breast. Your breast will be compressed from top to bottom for one x-ray, then compressed side-to-side for the other. While the compression is tight and uncomfortable, the majority of women who undergo a mammogram for the first time find it isn’t as painful as they expected, and the sensation lasts for a few seconds.

Don’t panic if they have to re-do a screening

Sometimes, the mammographers require an extra image or two. This isn’t because they’ve automatically detected something nasty: it could be that you moved too much, or the first image didn’t take. And especially don’t panic if you catch the mammographer closely examining an image, either: that’s them ensuring that they got the shot they wanted without having to repeat it again.

Waiting for your mammogram results

If you undergoing a mammogram on the NHS, you will receive a letter with your mammogram results within two weeks. If the screening showed no sign of cancer, you’ll be invited for another mammogram in three years’ time, although it is important to keep checking your breasts for changes in the meantime.

If the results are deemed ‘abnormal’, you’ll be invited back for further tests such as an ultrasound or biopsy. Sometimes the mammogram results may be unclear and you may be asked to return for a further mammogram.

At the Thames Breast Clinic, you will receive your mammogram results immediately and we can also provide 3D mammograms.

3d mammogram at Thames Breast Clinic

New to the UK: 3D mammography

We all know the benefits of breast screening and its ability to give women the earliest indication possible of cancerous changes in the breast and give them the best possible chance at beating it. So the introduction of 3D mammography to the UK in recent years has been a huge development in breast screening.

Finally, the full picture

Otherwise known as breast tomosynthesis, 3D mammography – just like standard breast screening – uses X-rays to produce images of breast tissue in order to detect lumps, tumours or other abnormalities. But while standard breast screening produces just two images of each breast (a side-to-side view and a top-to-bottom view), 3D mammography captures multiple ‘slices’ of the breast from every conceivable angle – which can be brought together create a pin-sharp 3D reconstruction of the breast.

This means that a radiologist would be able to review reconstruction in minute detail: if they need to, they could leaf through the 3D image one slice at a time, as if they were turning pages in a book. This means that if anything that should be there is there – no matter how small – it won’t be missed, which means that the chances of false-positive and false-negative readings could be vastly reduced. And it’s especially good news for those of us who have dense breast tissue – the 3D screening can offer a far clearer picture of what’s going on.

What happens during a 3D mammography procedure?

It’s pretty similar to a standard screening: you’ll be asked to remove any clothing above the waist, as well as any jewellery or other objects that might interfere with the imaging process. You’ll then be positioned before the machine, and your breasts will be held in place by two compression plates.

The scan, which takes between two and three seconds, is recorded by a robotic arm which will move in an arc above your breasts. The dosage is similar to film mammography and is only slightly higher than in standard 2D digital mammography. The entire procedure takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes. Essentially, if you’ve been through breast screening before, you already know what to expect.

The benefits of a vastly improved screening system are manifold – to both the patient and the medical community. As we all know, the earlier cancer is detected, the better chance the patient has of overcoming it – and an earlier and more accurate diagnosis means fewer unnecessary call-backs, savings across the board for clinics, and improved peace of mind.

This development has produced a marked improvement in cancer detection in the USA and we’re delighted to be able to offer to our patients at Thames Breast Clinic. If you want to know more about 3D mammography and the breast cancer screening service we offer, call us on 0800 612 9490

fertility and breast cancer

Fertility and breast cancer – a new link discovered

An American research team has conducted a study of anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) – which indicates the size of a woman’s ovarian reserve – and have concluded that women with high levels of it can be up to 60%  more likely to develop breast cancer, compared to women with low levels of the hormone.

The hormone – which can be detected with a simple blood test – is naturally secreted in cells which develop egg sacs, and its level is usually checked and monitored during fertility tests, as an indicator of a woman’s ovarian reserve – in other words, it’s a good indicator of a woman’s fertility, or otherwise.

It’s also used as a marker of time to menopause: those with higher AMH levels for their age tend to reach menopause later in life, but for most of us our AMH levels peak in our early twenties and then tail off. But the results of these new findings have alerted to the medical community to the possibility of keeping tabs on it during cancer testing.

A ‘possible biomarker’

The study – conducted by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine – involved an analysis of blood samples from almost 6,000 premenopausal women across the United States of America, Italy, Sweden and the UK. This valuable data had been collected from ten separate studies (including one from the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study at The Institute of Cancer Research, London), and the goal was to conduct the most intensive examination yet of the association of AMH levels with breast cancer risk.

Their findings, published in the International Journal of Cancer, concluded that women with the highest levels of the hormone were more likely to develop breast cancer – leading them to state that AMH is a ‘possible biomarker’ for breast cancer.

“The link we found between anti-Mullerian hormone and breast cancer risk is interesting because few markers of risk in the blood have been identified for premenopausal women,” said Professor Anne Zeleniuch-Jacquotte, the lead author of the study.

“Our study found a moderate risk increase, and we hope additional markers can now be found to help substantially improve individual risk prediction.”

A key to earlier breast cancer detection?

Co-author Anthony Swerdlow, professor of epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, who leads the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study – a landmark prospective study of the causes of breast cancer that is following over 113,000 UK women for 40 years – added; “In future, anti-Mullerian hormone could be factored into new ways of predicting individual women’s risk of developing the disease. The causes of breast cancer are highly complex and not yet fully understood. Pooling together large datasets is key to understanding how the many different causes interact and affect breast cancer risk.’

In an era where more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer than ever before – thanks to a vast improvement in detection technology – this study could open up another avenue on the journey towards understanding cancer.

breast cancer detection

New research points the way to earlier breast cancer detection

Another month, another vital discovery in the fight against cancer: a collaboration between the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, the Baylor College of Medicine Waco, Texas and Canada’s University of British Columbia has detected a link between certain DNA mutations and a high risk of relapse in oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer, as well as other mutations which are associated with better outcomes.

Their study, which was published this month, could really help the medical community when they attempt to predict which patients are most likely to have their cancer return and spread – which would be a huge help when it comes to mapping out a plan of treatment. Furthermore, it also opens the door to the development of more aggressive treatments for patients with the newly identified high-risk mutations.

The researchers analysed tumour samples from more than 2,500 patients with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer – which is one of the most common forms of the disease, where the cancer cells have receptors which bind to the hormone oestrogen in the nucleus of the cell and drive tumour growth.

Why detecting ER positive cancer cells are vital

Women who suffer from ER positive breast cancer have a number of treatment options that can block the oestrogen receptor to stop tumour growth, which are more effective and less toxic than traditional chemotherapy and radiation, but certain tumours have the ability to develop a resistance to these treatments and can mutate without the presence of oestrogen. And it is these types of mutations which cause the majority of deaths due to breast cancer.

This new study not only confirmed previous studies which proved that relatively common mutations in patients with a gene called MAP3K1 responded well to treatment, while those with a gene known as TP53 were more likely to have a recurrence. But it also picked out three other genes – DDR1, PIK3R1 and NF1 – which are comparatively rare mutations that are also linked to cancer recurrence and spreading and recommended that they should be also be targeted in future cancer screenings.

“Although mutations in DDR1 and NF1 are considered rare, they are associated with early relapse, which makes them much more common in patients who unfortunately die from the disease and, thus, could be critical therapeutic targets,” said Matthew J. Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD, of the Baylor College of Medicine. “Their identification also gives us very important molecular clues into the nature of aggressive tumour behaviour.”

Earlier breast cancer detection = a better chance of beating cancer

The upshot of studies like this is to help the medical community sharpen its focus on what they should be looking for in screenings in order to detect the occurrence of cancer as early as possible, in order to give patients the best possible chance against cancer.

“We would like to help doctors identify patients who are likely to do well versus those who are likely to have a recurrence,” said first author Obi L. Griffith, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and an assistant director of The McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine.

“Those with mutations that are associated with a good prognosis may need less intensive therapy than they might otherwise receive. But if a patient’s tumour has mutations linked to high risk of relapse, it’s useful to know that early so they can be treated with more aggressive therapies or even potential investigational therapies that could be targeted to their specific mutations.”

breast cancer terminology

Breast cancer terminology: is it time to stop the fight?

We all know the language that gets used about cancer. It’s an ‘enemy’. We ‘fight’ it. Hopefully we can ‘defeat’ it and become a ‘survivor’. And those who don’t ‘lose their battle’.

A lot of people are happy to use this language – or at least don’t question the logic of it – but a lot of people aren’t. Articles like this, in the wake of the death of broadcaster Rachel Bland, make the case that framing cancer treatment in aggressive, militaristic terms is a worn-out and strangely macho cliché that reduces everyone who undergoes breast cancer as a grizzled survivor at best or not strong enough at worst.

A recent medical study examined the language of cancer and came to the conclusions that treating cancer as a ‘fight’ can have long-term implications for those with cancer – and also can stop people without cancer from doing what they can to avoid it.

In one study, the research team split a group of volunteers with no history of cancer into two groups. One group was asked: “What things would you do to fight against developing cancer?”, while the other group was asked: “What things would you do to reduce your risk of developing cancer?” Then, they were asked to list the things they could do – or stop doing – to reduce the risks of developing cancer.

Breast cancer terminology: defence is the best attack

The researchers collated the responses and discovered that the group that was exposed to combat-related metaphors listed significantly less self-control preventative behaviours. Why would this happen? Because according to the researchers, framing cancer in combative terms means that we see it as an unavoidable thing that can only be attacked when it’s there. “When we’re at war,” said the study’s authors, “we have no choice but to engage a hostile force that must be attacked in order to be stopped. Self-limitation is not part of that equation.”

Another study claimed that people who see themselves ‘at war’ with cancer are more likely to frame their treatment plan in more aggressive terms – such as pushing to undergo a severe course of chemotherapy rather than early palliative care, which can provide a better quality of life and sometimes even extend lifespan.

Breast cancer terminology: words matter

The study, conducted by Lancaster University, analysed one and a half million word’s worth of interviews and online cancer discussions, and discovered that ‘fight’ and ‘battle’ were two of the most commonly-used words, and that framing the discussion in combative terms foists the blame onto the people who have developed it. “Blame is being put on the patient, and there’s almost a sense that, if you are dying, you must have given up and not fought hard enough” claimed the study author, Professor Elena Semino.

Not only that, but the cancer-as-war analogy can also affect people who have successfully undergone cancer treatment – the guilt of ‘surviving’ while others didn’t, for example – and those who have successfully undergone treatment only for the cancer to return can experience an additional sense of failure – that their previous ‘victory’ is now fraudulent.

Naturally, the language you choose to use is a completely personal thing: if seeing cancer as an enemy that needs to be fought helps you make sense of your situation, that’s absolutely fine. But just as there are many different treatments, there are also many different ways to look at it – and you’re free to pick your words you like.

breast cancer risk and diet

More fruit and veg may reduce the risk of breast cancer

The Five-A-Day campaign is probably the most well-known of our government’s health campaigns so, in that respect, the most successful. However, since its introduction in 2003, we’re still only eating only three and a half portions of fruit and vegetables a day on average. But, now there’s even more reason to up your fruit and veg intake, particularly if you want to ward off breast cancer.

According to a recently-published study in the International Journal of Cancer, getting your five-a-day – and more – could mean you’re getting a sizable chunk of extra protection from aggressive forms of breast cancer, and the medical community is sitting up and taking notice.

The study, conducted by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, utilised the data of 182,145 female nurses from 1980 to 2013, and concluded that those who’d eaten 5.5 servings of fruit and veg a day or more, were significantly less likely to develop breast cancer than those who ate fewer than 2.5 servings. In fact, they had an 11% lower risk.

Antitoxidants and nutrients can help

 So what kinds of fruit and veg should you be looking for? According to the study, the anti-cancer properties of greens and fruits have nothing to do with the fibre they contain, which doesn’t seem to have a substantial effect on fending off cancer (although it keeps you regular).

According to the study, the real benefits of a five-a-day routine come from the increased levels of antioxidants and micronutrients – particularly in the following…

Cruciferous vegetables

Otherwise known as ‘brassicas’, cruciferous vegetables are mainly leafy greens – things like broccoli, sprouts, cress, cabbage, bok choy, kale and caulis (but also turnips and radishes). The reason for this is that they’re loaded with glucosinulates (which can reduce hormone-related cancers and deactivate carcinogens). They work especially well when eaten raw – as part of a smoothie, for example – but also do a job when they’re lightly cooked – in a stir fry, for example.

Berries

Low in natural sugar, that are packed with anthocyanins – which reduce inflammation and fend off oxidation in the brain – and ellagic acid, which can neutralise carcinogens and have anti-tumour benefits.

Capisicums and other yellow-orange veg

If you like spicy food, keep it up: there’s been a barrage of scientific evidence which claims that capsaicin – the active ingredient of chilli peppers – has the ability to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells undamaged. But other veg such as pumpkin and corn can help, too.

Know your portions

If you’re not portion-savvy but you’d like to begin a healthy-eating regime, it’s worth remembering the following: one portion equals to or three small items (like plums, apricots etc), one medium-sized fruit (like apples or pears), one portion of a large fruit (slice of pineapple, melon etc), four tablespoons of greens, three tablespoons of cooked veg, and three heaped tablespoons of pulses or beans. Oh, and potatoes don’t count, alas: they’re counted as a starchy food.