While breast cancer is the UK’s most common type of cancer, you might not be familiar with the causes, symptoms and treatment.

There are lots of different types of cancer and people are regularly affected by cancer whether that be knowing a loved one who is diagnosed or having their own journey.

To help you understand the condition further, the NHS has explained what it is, the things to look out for, how it can be treated and more.

Who can get breast cancer?

While young women can get breast cancer, it is more common in women over 50.

It’s rare but men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer, the NHS website explains.

The NHS encourages women to check their breasts regularly for any changes and says they should always get any changes examined by a GP.

It adds: “About 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. There's a good chance of recovery if it's detected at an early stage.”

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

There are several symptoms of breast cancer but usually the first thing you might spot is a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.

While most lumps aren’t cancerous, it’s always best for your doctor to check them out.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should also see your doctor:

  • a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • discharge from either of your nipples (this may be streaked with blood)
  • a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • a rash on or around your nipple
  • a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

Breast pain isn’t usually a sign of breast cancer.

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What causes breast cancer?

Breast cancer’s exact causes aren’t fully understood but some factors increase the risk of you developing it, including:

  • age (the risk increases as you get older)
  • a family history of breast cancer
  • a previous diagnosis of breast cancer
  • a previous non-cancerous (benign) breast lump
  • being tall, overweight or obese
  • drinking alcohol

Are there different types of breast cancer?

There are multiple types of breast cancer including non-invasive and invasive. Less common types include invasive (and pre-invasive) lobular breast cancer, inflammatory and Paget’s disease of the breast.

Non-invasive breast cancer (carcinoma in situ) is “found in the ducts of the breast (ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS) which has not spread into the breast tissue surrounding the ducts.

“Non-invasive breast cancer is usually found during a mammogram and rarely shows as a breast lump”, explains the NHS.

Invasive breast cancer is “where the cancer cells have spread through the lining of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue.

“This is the most common type of breast cancer.”

The NHS adds: “It's possible for breast cancer to spread to other parts of the body, usually through the blood or the axillary lymph nodes. These are small lymphatic glands that filter bacteria and cells from the mammary gland.

“If this happens, it's known as secondary, or metastatic, breast cancer.”

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Can breast cancer be treated?

If breast cancer is detected at an early stage, there are treatments available before it spreads to other parts of the body.

A combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy is used to treat breast cancer.

Usually, the first treatment someone with breast cancer would have is surgery, followed by either chemotherapy or radiotherapy or they may have hormone or targeted treatments, in some cases.

The NHS explains: “The type of surgery and the treatment you have afterwards will depend on the type of breast cancer you have. Your doctor should discuss the best treatment plan with you.

“In a small proportion of women, breast cancer is discovered after it's spread to other parts of the body (metastatic breast cancer).

“Secondary cancer, also called advanced or metastatic cancer, is not curable, so the aim of treatment is to relieve symptoms.”

What is breast cancer screening?

Mammographic screening is where X-ray images are taken of the breast and it’s the most commonly available way to find a change in a person’s breast tissue (lesion) at an early stage.

Some breast cancers can go unnoticed even with a mammographic screening.

A screening could also increase your chances of having extra tests and interventions including surgery even if breast cancer isn’t affecting you.

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The NHS adds: “Women with a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer may be offered screening and genetic testing for the condition.

“As the risk of breast cancer increases with age, all women who are 50 to 70 years old are invited for breast cancer screening every 3 years.

“Women over the age of 70 are also entitled to screening and can arrange an appointment through their GP or local screening unit.

“The NHS is in the process of extending the programme as a trial, offering screening to some women aged 47 to 73.”