Having screenings at a breast clinic can put your mind at rest or allow you to take early action if something abnormal is found.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, making up around a quarter of diagnosed cases. Here in the UK, the disease is even more prevalent in women, accounting for 30% of diagnoses annually. It’s followed by lung, bowel and uterine cancer in women, and almost everyone has had a friend or family member who has found a lump in their breast and been diagnosed with breast cancer.
While research into the causes of breast and many other types of cancer is ongoing, it is known that several factors can trigger the growth of tumours in breast tissue. They include the surrounding environment and exposure to hazardous substances and materials like asbestos, plus pollution, a poor lifestyle, obesity, and a diet high in heavily processed foods, bad fats, and red meat.
There can be hormonal and genetic factors involved, especially BRCA mutations, that lead some women to take preventative measures of having their breasts removed and then cosmetically reconstructed. Age also plays a role in the development of breast cancer, with women over the age of 50 more at risk of the disease. In the UK, the majority of breast cancer cases — eight in 10 women diagnosed — are in this age bracket, according to the NHS. And so, with this myriad of potential causes, it’s vital that women attend a breast clinic regularly and have themselves screened.
How does breast cancer develop?
Any cancer starts when cells anywhere in the body begin to divide and grow more rapidly than is normal, leading to a clump of cells that then develops into a lump or tumour. If left untreated, a tumour can damage surrounding tissue, blood vessels and organs, interfering with their function and leading to pain and, eventually, death. Cancer of the breast most commonly has its origins in the ducts that produce milk following a birth; it’s believed the majority of breast cancers start this way, accounting for some 80% of cases globally.
But cancer cells can also form in other parts of the breast, including the lobules or glandular tissue, and a woman may eventually feel a lump in one or both of her breasts, the latter known as synchronous bilateral breast cancer. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you feel a lump or lumps in your breasts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re malignant cancer cells. Most — around 90% — turn out to be benign and therefore harmless.
If breast cancer cells do turn out to be malignant, swift intervention is required in the form of surgery or chemical or radiation treatment or a combination of the three. The longer it’s left untreated, the greater the risk that the cancer cells will break free from their location in the breast — the primary tumour — and spread to nearby lymph nodes, enter the bloodstream and take hold in vital organs like the brain and liver, where secondary tumours start to grow. This is called metastatic breast cancer, and it can be difficult to treat.
What kind of breast-screening tests are there?
There are several ways to screen the breasts to see if any abnormal developments are occurring. Women over 50 in England will be invited by the NHS to have breast screening every three years because their age puts them at greater risk of developing breast cancer. It’s vital that younger women are screened too, and if it’s not possible to have it done at an NHS hospital, you can opt for private breast screening in London or elsewhere in the country.
The most common form of screening at a breast clinic is a mammogram, a type of X-ray machine that highlights abnormalities like calcifications and masses in the breast tissue. Some women find it slightly uncomfortable, while others experience pain during a mammogram, as the machine flattens the breasts to take images. Thankfully, the process only lasts a few minutes.
It’s best not to have a mammogram just before or during your period, when your breasts may be much more tender and slightly swollen. And it’s not advisable to use any kind of powder, perfume or deodorant around the breast area on the day of a mammogram because the X-rays can make them look like suspicious lumps or spots.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging — a machine that takes images using radio waves and magnets and is commonly referred to as an MRI — is another way to examine the breasts for any problems. They’re usually for women at high risk of breast cancer and may be used with mammograms to get a clear and detailed picture of the various areas of the breasts.
A clinical breast examination is another typical way to check the health of the breasts, and it’s carried out by either a doctor or nurse. It simply involves them checking the breasts with their hands to feel if there are any lumps or hardness that could be problematic.
When you have private breast screening at our breast clinic in London, you might also have a Computed Tomography (CT) scan, as well as a breast ultrasound. If your doctor decides a sample of the lump is required to see if it’s actually a tumour, we may carry out a stereotactic localisation. It’s a procedure that uses a mammography machine to pinpoint the area of concern then a small needle is used to take a biopsy or sample.
Regular screening at breast clinic to stay healthy
With around 55,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year, and the all-too-real risks of developing the disease, it’s vital that women have regular checks at a breast clinic. This allows for fast intervention if something is detected and turns out to be a malignant tumour.
As cancer is a fast-growing disease with the potential to spread around the body, treating tumours early on is critical to arresting cell growth, beating the disease and returning to a healthy life as quickly as possible. Private breast screening can put your mind at rest while also having your procedure done in a comfortable setting and with the best doctors, nurses and equipment available, as well as no waiting times.
It’s only a few minutes, every few years, to safeguard your precious health.
If you are interested in having private breast screening in London, our world-class breast clinic at St John & St Elizabeth Hospital is available for you. Make an appointment now and look after your breasts and your overall health.