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Breast Cancer Care blog

Our long-running one-to-one peer support service is being relaunched under the name Someone Like Me.

Every year we put hundreds of people in touch with one of our trained volunteers for emotional and practical support. Time after time, the feedback shows how much people get from the chance to talk to someone who understands how they are feeling because they've been through it too.

‘Speaking to someone who had had such a similar diagnosis and treatment and who had felt all the things I was feeling was absolutely invaluable. Unless you have been there, with the best will in the world, you can't understand how a diagnosis of breast cancer can affect you in so many different ways.’

Our pool of nearly 200 volunteers bring a huge wealth of experience. So, whether you want to talk to someone who is older or younger, single or in a relationship, with children or without, career-focused or not, the chances are that we can find someone.

We have volunteers with personal experience of a huge range of treatments and reconstructions, as well as partner volunteers who know what it’s like to support someone you love through breast cancer.

Changing our name to Someone Like Me will help us to make sure more people hear about the service and have the chance to benefit from the unique individual support it offers.

Find out more, email someonelikeme@breastcancercare.org.uk or call 0845 077 1893.

Post date: 16 April 2014

If you or someone you love needs support during the long Easter weekend, our online Forum is always open.

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We know that holiday periods can be especially difficult for many people affected by breast cancer. For example, if you're waiting for results or you're caring for someone who is unwell at home. There are lots of people on the Forum who have been through similar experiences.

Helpline Easter hours

The Helpline will be closed on Good Friday 18 April, Easter Saturday 19 April and Easter Monday 21 April.

Normal opening hours are 9am-5pm weekdays and 10am-2pm Saturdays.

Helpline staff are here to talk through worries and concerns and to tell you where you can get further support and information.

Calls are answered by nurses and trained staff with experience of breast cancer. Whatever your concern, we'll understand the issues you might be facing, and you can be confident that any information you receive is accurate and up-to-date.

Our website and the online Forum are available 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Post date: 15 April 2014

The European Breast Cancer Conference, held in Glasgow, brought together experts in the field of breast cancer to present new data and new ways of thinking about risk factors, treatment and treatment side effects, to name a few of the topics covered.

I listened to a number of presentations on the latest research into how and when radiotherapy is given.

Should radiotherapy be delivered over a shorter period?

It’s now standard practice to deliver radiotherapy over 15 working days in early breast cancer. But a new trial will look at the safety of delivering radiotherapy over five days.

The FAST-Forward clinical trial will see whether this shorter duration of treatment will give the same benefits, in terms of reducing the risk of local recurrence and late adverse effects, in people with early breast cancer.

Radiotherapy for cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes

It was recently widely reported in the press that women whose breast cancer has spread to just a few lymph nodes under their arm are less likely to have their cancer come back or to die from it if they have radiotherapy after a mastectomy.

The news stories were based on new research presented at the European conference by Dr P McGale, and published in The Lancet.

Dr McGale said that, until now, it has been uncertain whether women with early breast cancer that has spread to just one, two or three lymph nodes under the arm gain any benefit from radiotherapy after a mastectomy.

His findings show that radiotherapy improves a person’s chances of remaining disease-free and reduces their risk of dying from breast cancer. ‘Our results suggest that women being treated today are likely to benefit from radiotherapy if they have any positive lymph nodes,’ said Dr McGale.

Although we’re still awaiting results of another key trial (called Supremo) into radiotherapy in people with early breast cancer that has spread to fewer than three nodes, Dr McGale’s findings have the potential to change practice in the not too distant future.

Find out more about radiotherapy

If you have any questions or concerns about radiotherapy or any of your treatments, call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

Post date: 09 April 2014

Being diagnosed with breast cancer or having a relative with the disease does not usually increase the risk for other family members.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Every year nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer. Most of these develop it by chance, and the biggest risk factors are being female and getting older.

Only a few breast cancers (5%) are  because of genes passed on by your parents, as in people who have inherited one of the known altered breast cancer genes – BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53. This means routine genetic testing wouldn’t be helpful for most people diagnosed with breast cancer.

Breast cancer in families

What is a family history of breast cancer

Being diagnosed with breast cancer or having relatives with breast cancer means you have a family history of breast cancer, but not automatically a ‘significant’ family history.

A significant family history is when there is more than one blood relative (by birth not marriage) on the same side of the family (your mother’s side or your father’s) who has had breast cancer and some other cancers such as ovarian cancer.

Your family history may be significant if you have:

  • one or more close relatives who have had breast cancer before the age of 40
  • two or more close relatives on the same side of the family who have had breast cancer
  • close relatives who have had breast cancer and others who have had ovarian cancer
  • one close relative who has had breast cancer in both breasts (bilateral) or who has had breast and ovarian cancer
  • a male relative who has had breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Find out more about breast cancer in families.

 

Assessment of risk – where to begin?

If you’re concerned that your breast cancer (or a relative’s breast cancer) was because of your family history, talk to either your breast specialist or your GP. They will want to know:

  • the number of relatives from the same side of the family that have developed cancer – your mother’s blood relatives and father’s blood relatives will be assessed separately
  • what type of cancer each person had
  • the age each person was when they were diagnosed and whether they are still alive
  • what relationships the relatives with cancer have to each other (for example, brother and sister, sister and maternal aunt)
  • what their relationships are to you.    

If this information suggests you may have a significant family history, you'll be referred to either the local family history clinic or regional genetic centre (depending what’s in your local area).

If you're assessed as being at high risk, you'll be offered genetic counselling at a regional cancer genetic centre. The genetic counsellor can help you understand more about your family history, your risk of developing another breast cancer (or of your relatives developing breast cancer) and ovarian cancer, and the options available, such as:

Telling your family you have a positive genetic result

It's possible that other family members (blood relatives) also have an altered gene and they will need to decide whether to go for a genetic test or not. So it’s important to find a way to talk to your relatives, as knowing that you carry an inherited altered breast cancer gene will help them make choices; it could help reduce their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in the future.

There is no right way or time to tell them. Lots of things will influence when and how you do this.

For example, you might feel guilty about passing on this news or you may not have a close relationship with the family members. How and when you tell children will depend on their age. Your genetic team can help you.

It's important to understand that everyone has two copies of each gene. When an altered BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53 gene is found, this means that only one of your two copies of that gene has been altered and the other copy is fine. When a baby is conceived, you only pass on one copy of each gene. This means that a gene carrier has a 50% chance of passing on an altered gene to their baby (girl or boy). It’s out of your control but it could affect their future health.

We're here to help

If you’d like to talk to someone about this or you have any other questions about breast cancer or breast health, please call our Helpline or use our email Ask the Nurse service.

 

 

Post date: 08 April 2014

Breast cancer in men is rare. About 400 men are diagnosed each year in the UK compared to nearly 55,000 women.

About five per cent of breast cancers diagnosed are because of altered breast cancer genes passed on by parents. Both women and men can inherit and pass on altered breast cancer genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Increased risk of breast cancer

Men with an altered BRCA gene have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

  • BRCA1 around 1% lifetime risk, which means 1 out of every 100 men with an altered BRCA1 gene will develop breast cancer cancer at some time in their lives.
  • BRCA2 up to10/% lifetime risk, which means about 10 out of every 100 men with an altered BRCA2 will develop breast cancer at some time in their lives.

This increased risk is still less than women in the general population, where one woman in eight will get breast cancer at some time in their lives. So men who have an altered BRCA gene are not offered breast screening.

Instead, they’re encouraged to look out for any changes to their chest area, including around the collar bone and under their arms, and go to their GP (local doctor) straight away if they spot anything unusual. Because men as well as women have breast tissue, this is called being breast aware.

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Increased risk of other cancers

Men’s risk of getting prostate cancer is affected by having an altered BRCA gene. Up to 2% of prostate cancers diagnosed in men under the age of 65 are because of an altered BRCA gene.

With the altered BRCA1 gene: the risk is very slightly increased before the age of 65. After that it becomes the same as the general population, which has a lifetime risk of 8% (8 in every 100 men).

Men with an altered BRCA2 gene have up to a 25% lifetime risk (25 men out of every 100 with an altered BRCA2 gene).

There is no general screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK at the moment. But there is an NHS Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme.

There is also a large clinical trial running to see if general prostate screening would bring any benefits. It’s called the IMPACT study. Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 altered genes may be invited to take part.

There is evidence that some men with an altered BRCA gene may be at a slight increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer and melanoma. There isn't yet any effective screening for these cancers.

Get support

Your genetic team will be able to support you. Some have information booklets. For example the Oxford Regional Genetics Department booklet BRCA1 and BRCA2 for men.

You can contact our free telephone Helpline on 0808 800 6000, where nurses and trained staff with personal or professional experience of breast cancer answer the calls.

If you prefer to write down your query, you can use our email Ask the Nurse service.

And you can visit our online Forum, where you may find others with a similar experience to you.

Find support now

Post date: 04 April 2014