October is breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer accounts for almost 15% of all new cancer cases and it affects both men and women. There are an estimated 150 new cases every day. Sarah Harding’s death earlier this year was a tragic reminder that breast cancer also affects young and premenopausal women.
It is important to understand the distinction between primary and secondary breast cancer. Primary breast cancer is contained in the breast tissue or the lymph nodes underneath the arms. Early detection and treatment can significantly influence the prognosis for those suffering primary cancer. Treatment options may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone surgery.
Secondary breast cancer is also known as metastatic or Stage 4 cancer. As many as one in three cancers fall into this category. Metastatic cancer is diagnosed at the time of the initial diagnosis and median survival is three years. Timely diagnosis may not make as much of a difference because the cancer cells have already spread from the breast to other parts of the body. Treatment tends to be aimed at relieving symptoms and slowing the spread of the cancer. Treatment is usually more complex and will vary depending on where the cancer has spread in the body.
Self-detection remains key to the early diagnosis of breast cancer. The next port of call for patients tends to be their GP Practice. The referral guidelines stipulate that patients over the age of 30 with an unexplained breast lump should be referred to, and seen by, cancer services within two weeks. Unfortunately, many women are not referred appropriately. Patients are sometimes falsely reassured by their GP, who may examine the patient but not feel the lump. This can delay diagnosis and treatment and increase complications such as lymphedema.
Breast cancer is common and potentially a wide spectrum of people, both male and female. Patients and medical practitioners should be aware of the importance of acting quickly when they suspect a case of breast cancer. Prompt diagnosis and treatment saves lives by ensuring that a primary case of cancer is caught before it potentially becomes metastatic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eurydice Cote is an Associate in the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Team. She advises individuals who have sustained catastrophic and life changing injuries. Eurydice has helped clients who have sustained a range of injuries, including complete and incomplete spinal cord injury, amputation, orthopaedic injuries, gastrointestinal injuries and loss of vision.