Breast cancer: What you need to know

Image result for boobs pink ribbonOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I want to do my bit to help spread that awareness of what you need to be looking out for – but also a little bit of the science that might help you understand the disease a little more!


Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one person being diagnosed every 10 minutes! One in 8 women will develop breast cancer in the UK during their lifetime! And around 5,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK throughout Breast Cancer Awareness month 2017 alone!

Although breast cancer survival is improving and has doubled in the last forty years here in the UK – those numbers are still not great!


What is Breast Cancer?

Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells. They are the building blocks that make up every tissue and organ of our bodies, including the breast! Cells grow and divide all the time so old or damaged cells can die and get replaced by new ones – that’s why our blood replenishes after you cut your head open, or you get new layers of skin every few weeks! It is a completely normal process – the cell cycle! It even has checkpoints and everything!

But sometimes this process goes wrong! The checkpoints in our cell cycle don’t work and so the cells keep dividing, the old or damaged cells don’t die and new cells are being generated anyway – even though your body doesn’t need them! This build up of extra cells forms a mass of tissue – a lump, a growth, a tumour!


Now – it’s important to say that not all lumps and tumours are cancerous! A tumour can be benign – or non-cancerous – or it can be malignant – cancerous!  But we all have benign tumours – things like warts and moles! These grow simply because the cells have no room to grow so they expand on our skin’s surface. Malignant tumours though are a serious threat to your life because they can metastasize – or spread around your body – and cause you more issues! This is why it is so important to try and detect any small lump as soon as possible because if it is cancerous, the earlier you spot it, the easier it should be to treat!

Image result for cancer growth


Every cell carries a set of coded instructions in the form of DNA for every activity and function it can perform. Different genes are switched on in different cells in our body – thats why brain cells look and do many different things to your muscle cells for example. Genes also carry the coded instructions for basic functions of the cell such as their growth and the way they divide! The growth and division in normal cells is tightly regulated via those checkpoints I mentioned before, but it is when the genes that control these checkpoints become damaged or faulty that we lose control of the growth! It’s important to share that genes themselves do not cause cancer. In fact, when they function normally – genes prevent cancer. It is the malfunction of the genes that results in a tumour!

Genes are involved in what we inherit from our parents – like what colour eyes we have or whether we will be tall or not! But that doesn’t mean we can inherit cancer! Some people may inherit a higher risk of developing cancer because they get a slightly faulty version of one of those genes that is involved in controlling cell division from their parents. So things are more likely to go wrong! But on its own, this damaged gene is not enough to cause cancer. Normally, two or three different genes have to be damaged before a cell will become cancerous. That’s why so very few of the trillions of cells found in our body become cancerous. But again, if you start out with a damaged version, the more likely it is that you can get more damaged genes that result in uncontrolled cell growth aka cancer! Some of these inherited damaged genes have been identified such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 – which can increase your risk of developing breast cancer by 5 times!


In fact, many people aren’t aware that there is not just ‘one type of breast cancer’! There are many different types and sub-types and stages and grades, such as HER2-positive, estrogen receptor-positive, triple-negative, invasive, non-invasive and so on!

If your breast cancer for example is HER2-positive, this means that your cells are making an excess of a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells. Likewise, if your breast cancer is estrogen receptor-positive, this means that your cancer cells are more likely to receive signals from estrogen that will again promote cell growth. Triple negative breast cancers though seem to lack the receptors that usually fuel their growth! However, these cancers are usually from patients that carry mutations in those pesky damaged genes they inherited!

However, they all need to be treated differently! But even the same sort of cancer in an old person and a younger person can be treated differently, due to the more aggressive nature of cancer in young adults.

It is these reasons that there will never be one treatment to fit all breast cancers! And why so much funding and research is required to try and help lower those numbers that I introduced to you at the beginning.


What to Look Out For

I cannot stress how important it is for you to know your melons – regardless of the genes you have or the type of breast cancer! If you don’t know how your boobs feel and look ‘normally’ then you are really going to struggle to notice what are subtle changes! But a lump is not the only sign that you may have breast cancer, there are other symptoms too.

During my undergrad, I did some volunteering for the amazing breast cancer awareness charity Coppafeel! and they have some amazing resources for what you should be looking out for that I have shared here!

Image result for coppafeel


The Bottom Line

Image result for glitter bum

♥ Make sure you know your boobs – that goes for you guys as well! It could save your life!

♥ Remember to check them each month – I have a monthly reminder text from the wonderful Coppafeel! which you can sign up to too here!

♥ If in doubt, see a doctor! It is better to be safe than sorry!


Science love.


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