PiNK: Your Questions Answered

Breast Cancer Care’s experts answer your questions about breast cancer and its treatment

PiNK 2018 SUMMER p.14-p.15

Q: I’ve just finished treatment, and I’m worried about my breast cancer coming back. What symptoms should I report to the hospital?

A: Most people have no more problems after their treatment. But sometimes breast cancer can come back, and it’s normal to worry about this happening.

Having breast cancer means you have a slightly higher risk of developing a new primary breast cancer compared to someone who’s never had breast cancer. Whatever type of surgery you had, be aware of any changes to the breast, chest or surrounding area, even if you’re still having follow-up appointments or regular mammograms. A new primary breast cancer can occur in the same breast after breast-conserving surgery, or in the other breast.

Sometimes breast cancer can come back in the chest or breast area, or the skin near the original site or scar. This is a local recurrence. If breast cancer comes back and spreads to the tissues and lymph nodes around the chest, neck and under the breastbone, it’s called locally advanced breast cancer. Get used to how the scar feels, and check any remaining breast tissue, under your arm and the area around your neck regularly. If you notice a change, contact your hospital team if you’re still under their care, or see your GP to get it checked.

If breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it’s called secondary breast cancer. Secondary breast cancer is most likely to develop in the bones, lungs, liver, and brain. And while it can be controlled, sometimes for many years, it can’t be cured.

Many symptoms of secondary breast cancer are similar to those of other conditions; but if you notice a different or new symptom that persists and isn’t related to general coughs, colds or aches and pains, report it to your hospital team or GP.

It’s difficult to list all of them, but symptoms to be aware of include:

• Pain in your bones, such as the back, hips or ribs, that doesn’t improve with pain relief or lasts for more than one to two weeks and is often worse at night
• Unexplained weight loss and a loss of appetite
• Constantly feeling sick
• Discomfort or swelling under the ribs or across the lower abdomen
• Feeling constantly tired
• A dry cough or a feeling of breathlessness
• Severe or ongoing headaches
• Altered vision or speech

Q: I had a mastectomy for DCIS last year, but my neighbor has had a lumpectomy for breast cancer. Does this mean my cancer was more serious?

A: Having a mastectomy doesn’t mean that your cancer was more serious than someone who has had a lumpectomy – it just means that this was the right surgery for you.

There are many different types of breast cancer. DCIS, which stands for ductal carcinoma in situ, is an early form of breast cancer. The cancer cells have developed within the ducts of the breast, but have not spread outside the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue or to other parts of the body. As they are confined to the breast ducts, DCIS has a very good outlook.

The aim of surgery is to remove all cancer from the breast. The surgery you’re offered will depend on different factors such as the size of cancer and where it is within the breast.

There are two main types of breast surgery. Breast-conserving surgery, also known as wide local excision or lumpectomy, is the removal of cancer with a margin, or border, of normal breast tissue around it. A mastectomy is the removal of all the breast tissue including the nipple area.

You’re more likely to be offered a mastectomy if cancer affects a large area of the breast or the cancer is in more than one part of the breast.

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