Breast cancer

Investigations | Treatment | Surgery | Radiotherapy | Chemotherapy | Hormone treatment (endocrine)

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the UK. Women have a one in eight lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and the most common presentation is as a cancerous lump. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.

  • Incidence of breast cancer increases with age, doubling every 10 years until menopause, after which the rate of increase slows down
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with approximately 54,000 new cases of invasive disease and around 7,000 new cases of pre-invasive (in situ) disease diagnosed annually
  • The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumour in the breast is large enough to be felt. Swollen lymph nodes should also be checked by a health care provider.

Because mammograms do not find every breast cancer, it is important for you to be aware of changes in your breasts and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Last updated: July 17, 2019