Not all breast cancer is the same

Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK*. Many women know what signs and symptoms to look out for and regularly self-examine as recommended but many feel in the dark about breast cancer treatments.

We’re working in partnership with The Pink Ribbon Foundation and have conducted research which has found that over half of women feel in the dark about breast cancer treatments (58%).

Our survey of over 2000 women also found more than one in 10 women believe all breast cancer is the same and one in six believe all breast cancer is treated the same way, too. Not knowing that there are numerous types of breast cancer and many different treatment options would dissuade three in 10 women from reporting possible signs and symptoms to a medical professional, with a fifth being reluctant even to attend screening. This lack of awareness makes the prospect of receiving a diagnosis even more frightening and can lead to heightened feelings of anxiety, as well as a delay in seeking help.

In fact, having a greater knowledge of treatment options would make nearly two fifths (38%) feel more confident to seek an earlier diagnosis and over two thirds of women want to know more about different treatment options.

Prof PG Roy, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at GenesisCare says “We know that cancer is a difficult topic and one that people often don’t want to think about in detail. However, taking time to understand the different treatment options available to you, should you be diagnosed, can give you a greater sense of control. The innovations we’ve witnessed over the past years for the treatment of breast cancer means women can receive far more tailored and personalised treatment plans than ever before.”

*Breast Cancer UK

It’s time to have an open conversation

Amanda Mealing, actress, director and breast cancer survivor is helping us to raise awareness of the different types of cancer and treatment pathways available to encourage women to have more open and honest conversations.

She says “I know from my own experience how scary it can be to receive a diagnosis and go through treatment. However, one of the main things I’ve learnt and what I always tell people is how important an early diagnosis can be, as this often gives you the best chance and outcomes.”

Together with The Pink Ribbon Foundation our team of breast experts at GenesisCare hope that this new research will shine a light on some of the myths around breast cancer and its treatment. In truth, no two breast cancers are identical and they’re not all treated the same way either. Innovations have been developed over the past years that mean women can receive far more tailored and personalised treatment plans than ever before that are adapted to their diagnosis. Not all treatment plans include chemotherapy, hair loss isn’t always a side effect and radiotherapy can be delivered without needing permanent tattoos.

Jonathan Prince, Chair of Trustees at Pink Ribbon Foundation says: “Facing breast cancer is an enormously difficult challenge for anyone – so it’s important for us to recognise where we can do more to broaden conversations, awareness and education amongst women, so they feel equipped to ask about the different options open to them at the stages of screening and treatment.”

If you’re concerned about symptoms, make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible, or you can visit a one stop breast clinic.

Breast Cancer Awareness

This breast cancer awareness month we have created this short video to raise awareness and empower women to seek help sooner. Our aim is to help alleviate fears or anxiety, which could hold women back from getting checked out, in order to achieve best possible patient outcomes.

Quotation symbol

Everyone is unique, and therefore your treatment and your response to treatment should be as unique as you

Amanda Mealing - Actress, Director and Breast Cancer Survivor

Types of breast cancer

Breast cancer is not one disease, there are different types of breast cancer and many treatment options for each. In general, there is pre-invasive breast cancer, also called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), and invasive breast cancer.

 

Pre-invasive breast cancer, also called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is completely different from invasive cancer and is often referred to as stage zero because it cannot spread. DCIS still needs to be treated to stop it becoming invasive but can usually be cured at this early stage with surgery and radiotherapy.

Invasive breast cancer is cancer that has started to spread outside of the ducts and into the surrounding breast. There are different types of invasive cancer depending on the biology of the cancer cells.  The majority are oestrogen-driven, or ER receptor positive, and the treatment options for these are very effective. There are also slightly more aggressive cancers including HER2+ and triple negative breast cancers, but again scientists now have a very good understanding of these cancers and have developed a wide variety of treatment options.

 

An important factor in all breast cancer treatment is the stage the cancer is at when diagnosed. So, early diagnosis usually means that the cancer is still only within the breast and is much easier to treat.

A later diagnosis can mean that the cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes. Metastatic or secondary breast cancer is when the  cancer has spread from the breast to elsewhere in the body. Even so, these days there are many options available for these cancers in the form of personalised treatments that offer opportunities for good outcomes.

Types of treatments

Treatment options for women with breast cancer have evolved significantly in the last decade. These advances have made it possible to individualise care.

 

There is a common misconception that the treatment for all breast cancer is mastectomy (removal of the breast), but this is not the case.  Breast conservation surgery aims to remove the cancer completely but keep as much breast tissue as possible and is the aim of surgeons today.  Even for larger cancers, unnecessary surgery can be avoided using modern techniques and this can improve body image, reduce scarring, speed recovery, and enable patients to get back to your normal life as quick as possible.

This uses high energy X-ray beams to destroy cancer cells in the breast and lymph nodes.  These days advanced radiotherapy technology can spare unnecessary radiation to nearby organs such as the heart and lungs, reduce side effects and improve quality of life going forward. Patients can drive in and out of radiotherapy sessions and most can even have radiation over one week, instead of three or five weeks, which means less disruption to their family life or work life. Also, the permanent skin markings once used to align the radiation beam are no longer necessary thanks to new technologies so now the radiotherapy can be delivered tattoo-less – with no permanent marking or reminders of treatment.

These treatments affect the whole body and include chemotherapy, and more recently immunotherapy, which has transformed breast cancer care. Monoclonal antibody therapy drugs such as Herceptin have changed the outlook for thousands of women diagnosed with aggressive HER2+ breast cancer and are just one of several possible drugs available for these patients.  Similarly, chemotherapy is not just one single regime for everyone. Treatment can be tailored for each patient depending on the types of cancer, how fit the patient is, and even personal preferences and lifestyles.

Where cancer has unfortunately spread to other parts of the body, known as metastatic or secondary breast cancer, there are also now many options available. They include immunotherapy, maintenance therapy, or special state-of-the-art radiotherapy techniques to focus on small areas of cancer (SABR) without necessarily giving whole body chemotherapy. These are all treatments that can be discussed in the light of the breast cancer diagnosis of each patient.

 

In summary, there are now many ways to treat breast cancer and most often that means good outcomes and quality of life.

We’re here to help

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Any woman who thinks they have a problem, or is concerned about their breasts, please come forward because earlier diagnosis always gives more options. We’re here to help.

About GenesisCare

GenesisCare is a global organisation with over 440 cancer specialist centres throughout the UK, USA, Australia, and Spain. In the UK we specialise in advanced and innovative cancer diagnostics and treatments, providing fast access to world-class cancer care.

We work closely with regional and national cancer experts to introduce new ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer from around the world that are proven to be safe and effective, from the latest radiotherapy techniques, such as deep inspiration breath hold, to genomic testing and targeted therapies.

We believe care should be available when and where patients need it most and it should be designed to give them the best outcomes possible.