Women with ‘harmless’ lumps in the breast ‘are almost TWICE as likely to go on to develop cancer’

Women who are diagnosed with ‘harmless’ lumps and bumps in the breast are almost twice as likely to go on to develop cancer, a study suggests.

Researchers believe benign breast disease – such as cysts and other non-cancerous changes in the breast tissue – highlight women who are more susceptible to developing abnormalities.

The symptoms should be seen as a warning flag and more regular screening offered to those with other risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer.

The study involved almost 800,000 Spanish women, aged between 50 and 69 years, who took part in breast screening at least once between 1996 and 2015.

Researchers believe benign breast disease – such as cysts and other non-cancerous changes in the breast tissue – highlight women who are more susceptible to developing abnormalities

By 2017, 17,827 women had been diagnosed with benign breast disease and 11,708 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

In those with benign breast disease, around 25 out every 1,000 were subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer compared to 15 out of every 1,000 who did not have the condition.

The increased risk was found in women regardless of age and the risk persisted for at least 20 years, according to the findings which will be presented today at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona.

Dr Marta Roman, of the Hospital del Mar, Barcelona, said the results added weight to idea of personalised breast screening based on women’s individual risk profiles.

This ‘could reduce these harms and increase the benefits’ by helping to ensure those most at risk are offered appropriate screening and treatment.

‘We can use this knowledge, alongside what we know about other risk factors, to help optimise the breast screening that we offer to women,’ she said.

‘For example, if a woman is diagnosed with a benign breast disease, and she has other high-risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer, she could benefit from more frequent screening.’

Around 260,000 women in America are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. 

The figure sits around the 55,000 mark in the UK.

Women undergo mammograms if referred by a GP, or as part of the national screening programme that is offered to all women aged 50 to 71 every three years. These identify around 87 per cent of tumours.

But data from NHS Digital shows almost half of women do not turn up for their appointments, despite early diagnosis being key to survival.

Almost all (98 per cent) patients diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease survive for at least five years, compared to 25 per cent at the latest stage.

Noncancerous lumps, such as cysts and fibroadenomas, often require no treatment and go away by themselves.

Professor David Cameron, president of the European Breast Cancer Council, said the findings reiterate the importance of screening.

He said: ‘Mammograms quite often pick up signs of breast disease that are not cancer, such as cysts and fibroadenomas, and it’s important to remember that the majority of women with these conditions will not go on to develop breast cancer.’

The findings will be published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, of at Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘Every year 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. 

‘Breast screening is a vital tool for detecting breast cancer early, and the sooner it’s diagnosed the more likely treatment is to be successful, which is why we encourage all eligible women who are invited to attend.

‘We welcome research that could help identify who might be more at risk of developing the disease and we are currently funding studies to better understand the benefits and risks of a more tailored screening service. 

‘This research looked at women who went on to have breast cancer following an earlier diagnosis of non-cancerous breast disease. 

‘However other risk factors including genes, age, lifestyle and family history must also be considered to fully understand how likely someone is to develop breast cancer for a personalised screening programme to be effective.’

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 the 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 focussed 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 mean more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

For more information visit breastcancercare.org.uk, breastcancernow.org or www.cancerhelp.org.uk

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