Nineties television star Shannen Doherty has revealed that her stage four breast cancer has spread to her brain.
The Beverly Hills 90210 alum’s cancer returned in late 2020 and ‘metastasized’, a situation in which cancer cells multiply and replicate in excess before spreading to other areas of her body — with scans in January showing it had now spread to her brain.
Revealing the diagnosis, Ms Doherty shared intimate scenes of herself with a cadre of medical professionals preparing for radiation treatments that blast cancer cells with high-powered X-rays to kill them.
In a candid comment, she said: ‘This is what cancer can look like’ and explained that her extreme claustrophobia made it difficult to get the treatment.
Around 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, says Breast Cancer Now. Meanwhile, roughly 300,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in women every year in the US.
But not everyone knows how to spot tell-tale symptoms of the disease, which can be vital in boosting survival chances.
Here, MailOnline shares the six tell-tale warning signs of breast cancer to look out for.
The Beverly Hills 90210 alum’s cancer returned in late 2020 and ‘metastasized’, a situation in which cancer cells multiply and replicate in excess before spreading to other areas of her body — with scans in January showing it had now spread to her brain
The actress, 52, had a CT scan done on January 5 that revealed cancer cells had spread from their original site to her brain — which is known as ‘brain metastases’
Shannen Doherty is shown on the set of 90210 with her co-star Luke Perry
Lump in the breast
Finding a lump in your breast can be terrifying, especially knowing it’s one of the most common signs of cancer.
But most masses are merely benign and nothing to worry about, Cancer Research UK notes.
Some lumps are simply cysts buried underneath the skin. Others can be triggered through injuries and infections.
Doctors urge women to be particularly aware of lumps that are painless, hard and irregularly-shaped. Such lumps might not even be visible on the skin itself, yet they can be typically be felt by checking the breasts.
Symptoms of breast cancer to look out for include lumps and swellings, dimpling of the skin, changes in colour, discharge and a rash or crusting around the nipple
Swelling or lump in the armpit
You can’t usually feel your lymph glands — pea-sized lumps of tissue that contain white blood cells. They can be found under your chin and in the neck, as well as in your armpits and groin.
When you get infected, they can become swollen.
Yet lymph glands in the armpits which feel hard or are swollen may also be a signal that the cancer has spread, Cancer Research UK says. This is one of the first places that the disease spreads to.
You should arrange to see a doctor if the lump doesn’t disappear on its own within a couple of weeks, or if it appears to be getting worse.
How cancer can spread
Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
There they can start to grow into new tumours.
Cancers are named according to where they first started developing.
For example, bowel cancer that has spread to the liver is called bowel cancer with liver metastases or secondaries. It is not called liver cancer.
This is because the cancerous cells in the liver are cancerous bowel cells, as opposed to liver cells that have become cancerous.
In order to spread, some cells from the primary cancer must break away, travel to another part of the body and start growing there. Cancer cells don’t stick together as well as normal cells do.
They may also produce substances that stimulate them to move.
Source: Cancer Research UK
Change in size or shape of breasts
As well as lumps and swelling, breast cancer can cause changes in the appearance of your bosoms.
For example, the disease might make one of your breasts look bigger. Or, according to Cancer Research UK, it may morph its shape slightly.
But cancer is not the sole cause of such changes. It can happen during pregnancy, too.
Sometimes a lump or another breast cancer symptom could be confused with this, Macmillan Cancer Support advises.
‘If you are pregnant and have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor,’ it adds. ‘Your symptoms should be checked in the same way as in women who are not pregnant.’
Discharge of fluid from the nipple
Discharge of fluid from one or both nipples could also be a key indicator of the disease.
‘Lots of women have nipple discharge from time to time. It may just be normal for you,’ the NHS advises.
However, ‘nipple discharge in men is not normal’, it adds.
The colour of your discharge is not a good way of telling if it’s anything serious, as normal discharge can be lots of colours.
If discharge occurs either regularly, it only comes from one breast, it’s bloodstained or smelly, you’re not breastfeeding and it leaks out without any pressure on your breast or you’re over the of 50, it is always best to get it checked, experts say.
Dimpling, a rash or redness on skin
A breast rash can happen for many reasons.
But if a rash occurs with swelling or a thickening of the skin, it may be a sign of breast cancer.
A change in the colour of the breast is also a warning sign to get checked out, says Breast Cancer Now.
Dimpling skin is often compared to orange peel and can be associated with inflammatory breast cancer, which is a rare but aggressive form of cancer.
But it is important to note these skin changes can also be caused by other breast conditions.
Crusting, scaly or itchy skin on the nipple
Crusting of the skin, scaly or itchy skin could look like eczema, according to the NHS.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer that can cause skin changes in your breast.
With this type of cancer, the breast or part of the breast can become red, inflamed, painful and swollen. It can also cause itching of the breast.
Sometimes pain or discomfort in the breast that does not go away is also experienced by those with breast cancer.
But this is rare, Macmillan Cancer Support notes.
Checking your breasts should be part of your monthly routine so you notice any unusual changes. Simply, rub and feel from top to bottom, feel in semi-circles and in a circular motion around your breast tissue to feel for any abnormalities
The ultimate DIY guide to checking your breasts
Checking your breasts for lumps could save your life.
But, despite years of pleas from cancer charities, more than a third of women in the UK still do not regularly assess theirs.
Thousands of women say they simply don’t know how. Others forget.
So, with that in mind, here MailOnline shares a DIY guide to help you spot any changes to your breasts.
When should you check?
It should be part of your monthly routine so you notice any unusual changes, charity CoppaFeel says.
You can check in the shower, when you are lying down in bed or in the mirror before you get dressed.
Because breast tissue isn’t just found in your boobs, it’s also important that men and women check the tissue all the way up to their collarbone and underneath their armpit.
How do you check?
There is no right or wrong way to check your breasts, as long as you know how your breasts usually look and feel, says the NHS.
But one of the most popular methods online involves using the pads of your fingers.
Examining your entire breast and armpit area, simply, rub and feel from top to bottom of the breast.
You should also feel in semi-circles and in a circular motion around your breast tissue to feel for any abnormalities, according to a guide shared in a blog post by the University of Nottingham.
Then look in the mirror for any visual lumps, skin texture and changes and changes in nipple shape or abnormal discharge.
If you spot any changes you should get it checked out by your GP.
Women aged between 50 and 70 should also be attending routine breast cancer screening.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world and affects more than two MILLION women a year
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases, and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the US, it strikes 266,000 each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer develops from a cancerous cell which develops in the lining of a duct or lobule in one of the breasts.
When the breast cancer has spread into surrounding breast tissue it is called an ‘invasive’ breast cancer. Some people are diagnosed with ‘carcinoma in situ’, where no cancer cells have grown beyond the duct or lobule.
Most cases develop in women over the age of 50 but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men, though this is rare.
Staging means how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. Stage 1 is the earliest stage and stage 4 means the cancer has spread to another part of the body.
The cancerous cells are graded from low, which means a slow growth, to high, which is fast-growing. High-grade cancers are more likely to come back after they have first been treated.
What causes breast cancer?
A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.
Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing breast cancer, such as genetics.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most breast lumps are not cancerous and are fluid filled cysts, which are benign.
The first place that breast cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs you will develop a swelling or lump in an armpit.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
- Initial assessment: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may do tests such as a mammography, a special x-ray of the breast tissue which can indicate the possibility of tumours.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.
If you are confirmed to have breast cancer, further tests may be needed to assess if it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the liver or a chest X-ray.
How is breast cancer treated?
Treatment options which may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. Often a combination of two or more of these treatments are used.
- Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or the removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumour.
- Radiotherapy: A treatment which uses high energy beams of radiation focused on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
- Chemotherapy: A treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer drugs which kill cancer cells, or stop them from multiplying.
- Hormone treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen, which can stimulate the cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments which reduce the level of these hormones, or prevent them from working, are commonly used in people with breast cancer.
How successful is treatment?
The outlook is best in those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small, and has not spread. Surgical removal of a tumour in an early stage may then give a good chance of cure.
The routine mammography offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 means more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.
For more information visit breastcancernow.org or call its free helpline on 0808 800 6000