It’s time to think pink for breast cancer awareness

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Every year in the UK, 50,000 people, including about 300 men, are diagnosed with breast cancer, making it our most common form of cancer.

With the pink ribbon as its emblem, October’s annual awareness month has come to mean a lot to people who have breast cancer, and their family and friends.

Though breast cancer is common, survival rates are better than ever.

However, UK survival rates lag behind those of other European countries, because UK women are still more likely to be later seeing a doctor about changes in their breast.

Here’s a look at the key issues surrounding breast cancer today.

Complex causes

If you thought breast cancer only occurred in people with a family history of the disease, think again – it can happen to anyone, male or female.

While scientists have now identified genes which predispose people to breast cancer and having more than one close relative who has been diagnosed may increase your risk, charities point out that less than 10 per cent of cases will run in families.

More often than not, the exact reasons why one person develops cancer and another doesn’t can’t be pinpointed, but research has found evidence that certain factors may increase the likelihood.

A poor diet early in life may be a factor and obesity in adulthood is also thought to be a potential link.

Those who drink more alcohol may also be at higher risk, and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and how much oestrogen you’ve been exposed to over your lifetime, are also cited.

Age is one of the biggest known risk factors, with some 80 per cent of breast cancers occurring in women over the age of 50.

The support network

Breast cancer isn’t just a life or death issue – for the majority of people diagnosed, a key challenge is coping with the disease, and a lot of charity funding goes towards helping with this.

Breast Cancer Care runs a free helpline offering support and advice on any issues relating to the illness – whether that be worries about surgery or practical dilemmas, such as how to tell children or employers.

There are also specialist support forums, including for the younger women who have breast cancer.

Living with secondaries

Breast Cancer Care is using this year’s awareness month to highlight secondary breast cancer, with a special awareness day on October 13.

Around 36,000 women and men are currently living with secondary breast cancer, and although it can be treated, it can’t be cured.

The charity is currently fighting for more support for people living with secondary breast cancer. They have identified a need for more access to specialist nurses, information and palliative care.

Check your breasts

Lumps and bumps don’t automatically mean cancer, but if you get into the habit of checking your breasts regularly, you will know what’s normal for you and be able to spot changes.

All parts of the breasts should be checked, including the armpits and up to the collarbone.

Changes you should look out for include:

n Changes in size or shape.

n Changes in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling.

n Inverted nipple.

n A lump or thickening of breast tissue.

n Redness or a rash on the skin or around the nipple.

n Discharge from one or both nipples.

n Constant pain in the breast or armpit.

n Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone.

Spotting these signs may not mean you have cancer, but seeing your GP quickly is crucial. He or she will be able to put your mind at rest, or refer you for further tests if needed.

For support and information about breast cancer or call Breast Cancer Care’s free helpline on 0808 800 6000

n Are you planning an event to mark breast cancer awareness month? Tell us about it by emailing