BREAST CANCER: ARE YOU AT RISK? SAGE ADVICE FROM A SURVIVOR AND SPIRE HARPENDEN

Spire Harpenden Hospital

The risks of inherited breast cancer have recently been highlighted in the media, with the diagnosis and treatment of high profile celebrities. These inherited risks are commonly associated with a mutation in one of two genes, called BRCA 1 and BRCA 2.

Although only about 5% of breast cancers run in the family, many women remain worried about the genetic risks, particularly those with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.[1

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Recent high-profile stories have highlighted the BRCA gene, including Angelina Jolie and Sharon Osborn. This hereditary gene considerably increases the likelihood of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Philippa Dimmock, a keen dressage competitor and artist who lives in Dunstable, was diagnosed with BRCA2 last February. Her mother died 12 years ago so she knew that the chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer were very high. horse spire

“My mum and grandmother both died of ovarian cancer when they were young (my mum died at 58 and my grandmother at 52) so I knew I needed to get checked when I hit 40.

I was diagnosed with BRCA 2 last February. When I was diagnosed I knew my chance of getting ovarian cancer was greatly increased, but I didn’t know about the increased likelihood of breast cancer as well. That was a real shock for me.

I chose Spire Harpenden Hospital as it is very local to me. Being able to choose my own consultant is very important to me, as I want to be able to get on with and trust the person who is operating on me. You wouldn’t let someone you didn’t like do work on your house, so why would you do the same with your body?

I had my hysterectomy in April at Spire with Mr Burrell, Consultant Gynaecologist. He came recommended by my GP and everything went smoothly.

I chose Miss Deol, Consultant Breast Surgeon to carry out my mastectomy. She was recommended on a Facebook support group of which I am a member. I booked an appointment to see her and really liked her professional manner. She wasn’t pretentious, just a normal person. She went through all of the possible procedures with me, discussing what each involved and their recovery time. I live a very busy life, training for dressage as well as working as an artist, so recovery time was key for me.   Unlike many women, I opted to avoid reconstruction. I love to embrace life and didn’t want to spend any longer recovering than necessary, Miss Deol respected my decision.

Once I had chosen the procedure, Miss Deol and I went through dates for surgery. I chose to have the operation in October as this is when my work is least busy, giving me plenty of time to recover.

I had my operation in late October and was at Spire for four days. The operation went smoothly, the nurses on the ward were brilliant and very attentive to my needs.

After I had been discharged there was a fluid build up which needed to be drained several times. I texted Miss Deol, and she arranged to see me and carry out the draining in outpatients the next day. It couldn’t have been easier!

If I were to give advice to a patient about the start the same journey I would tell them not to settle for a consultant they are not happy with. The service at Spire was brilliant, I can’t fault it at all.”

Family History of breast cancer

If you are concerned that you might be more likely to develop breast cancer due to your family history, Spire Harpenden in conjunction with GeneHealth UK offer screening for these mutations. You would be counselled through the process, which involves a simple blood test and results in a few weeks.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and early detection can lead to more successful treatment.

Miss Harleen K Deol, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at Spire Harpenden Hospital outlines practical advice about how to check your breasts and the signs to look out for.

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It is important to know how your breasts look and feel normally, so that if you notice a change, you can present to your doctor.  Most women’s breasts change during the month and many women find self-examination difficult or daunting. I therefore recommend a few simple ways of regularly checking your breasts:

  • In the bath or shower, flatten the fingers of one hand and slide firmly over the breast tissue, also checking for any lumps in the under-arm area (axilla). Is there a lump or thickening to the breast that feels different to the rest of the breast tissue?

Look at your breasts in the mirror once-a-month:

  • Has there been a change in the size or shape of either breast?
  • Are there any new changes to the nipples, eg. Inversion (change in the protrusion or     flattening), rash around the nipple skin?
  • Are there any lumps bulging out of the skin or dimples in the skin?

With your arms raised above your head look at the outline, shape and the bottom of the breasts.

  • Does one look very different to the other?
  • Is there a discharge of fluid or blood from the nipple?
  • Do you have constant or persistent pain in the breast or in the arm-pit?

What do I do if I have one or more of these symptoms?

If you have any of these symptoms I recommend you see your GP to be referred to a Breast One-Stop Diagnostic Clinic. During the clinic visit you will be seen & examined by a Breast Surgeon who can then ensure a Mammogram and/or ultrasound of the breasts is organised as needed and the results explained to you during your clinic visit. Any further testing will be explained as needed.

If you would like to speak to a member of staff to book onto the One Stop Breast Clinic or to enquire about BRCA testing, please contact us on 01582 714 420.

[1] Breast Cancer Care 2015 “Am I at risk

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