Breast Cancer - symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

October 04, 2017

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in this country.  It can affect both men and women, but it is much rarer in men.   Around 50,000 women are diagnosed every year in the UK, of which 11,500 die.  In men, approximately 80 die out of the 350 diagnosed.    As with any cancer the earlier the condition is caught then the better in terms of treatment and outlook and breast cancer can ultimately be curable.

Symptoms to look out for

For women, the best way to monitor any changes in the breast is to perform a self-examination on a regular basis.   If either men or women see any of the following signs they should see their GP as soon as possible although reassuringly approximately 90% of breast lumps are benign and pain in the breast is not usually a sign of breast cancer:

  • A lump or area of thickened tissue

  • A change in the size or shape of the breast

  • A bloodstained discharge from a nipple

  • A lump or swelling in an armpit

  • Dimpling on the skin of the breast

  • A rash on or around the nipple

  • A change of appearance in the nipple, for example the nipple turning inwards

How diagnosis is made

The first step for a GP is to examine the breast.  If they feel your symptoms are suspicious they will refer you to a specialist breast cancer clinic in accordance with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines.   At the specialist clinic you will probably require a mammogram initially, particularly if you are over 35 years old.  A mammogram is simply an x-ray of your breasts.  You may also be offered a breast ultrasound scan.  If you are under 35 years old you may not be offered a mammogram as this is less effective at detecting cancer in this age group and you may just be offered an ultrasound.   An ultrasound produces an image inside your breast which shows any lumps or abnormalities.   If the mammogram or ultrasound indicate something that needs to be investigated further, you are likely to be offered a biopsy where they will take a sample of tissue from your breast and test it for cancerous cells.  You may also be offered a scan and a needle test on the lymph nodes in your armpit to see whether there has been any spread to this area.

Next Steps

Once cancer has been confirmed further tests will be needed to determine the best type of treatment to be offered.   This will be based on the stage and grade of cancer found.   Staging is important as it indicates how far advanced the cancer is, and grading suggests how aggressive the tumour is – ie whether it is a slow or fast growing tumour.  You will usually have a CT scan to check whether the cancer has spread to other areas of your body.  An MRI is also often offered to clarify the results.   If there is any indication of the cancer spreading to your bones you will usually need a bone scan as well.   There may be other tests undertaken to clarify the type of cancer involved, which will help mould the way forward so that the type of treatment which the cancer is likely to best respond to is given.


The type of treatment you are offered will depend on the type of breast cancer you have, the stage of the cancer and the grade but the main types offered, either on their own or as a combination, are:-

  • Surgery

  • Radiotherapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Hormone Therapy

  • Biological or targeted therapy

If, having seen your GP, you were initially reassured only for breast cancer to be diagnosed at a later stage it may be possible to make a claim if the stage and grade of your cancer has advanced more than it otherwise would have been, and if the treatment you are offered is different than you would have received if an earlier diagnosis had been made.  Here at Metcalfes we have an experienced team who can help guide you through whether you do have a claim and who are sympathic and understanding in a clearly distressing situation.

Please contact us on 0117 239 8012.  Alternatively, you can email us by using our online contact form and we will be happy to discuss your potential claim with you.

Further Reading:-

NHS Breast Cancer (female)

NHS Breast Cancer (male)

Breast Cancer Now Organisation

Website content note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Breast Cancer - symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Gillian Clark

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