Breast Cancer – Information and resources for patients

What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease that affects the mammary gland tissue of the breast. The majority of people affected are women but breast tumours can also affect men so it is really important that everyone regularly performs a breast self-check to make sure there aren’t any unusual lumps or bumps or dimpling of the skin. If you do notice something unusual about the feel or appearance of your breasts during your monthly self-check (best done in the days after your period) the best thing to do is to make an appointment with your GP straight away to get it checked out.

We know there are some risk factors associated with the development of breast cancer, many of these are linked with the amounts of hormones circulating in our bodies during our lifetimes. For example, getting your period at an early age or entering menopause at a later age have both been associated with higher risk.

Other factors that affect a small proportion of patients (~10%) is the presence of a genetic mutation that places these individuals at much greater lifetime risk of the disease. It is a good idea to understand as much about your own personal family history as possible since a high incidence of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers, and/or tumours developing in people younger than 40 years of age in your immediate family are ‘red-herrings’ that indicate that people with these family histories should get checked-out by their doctor. It is important to note that just because someone has a strong family history or even if they find they are carriers of a mutant gene, it does not mean they will definitely go on to develop cancer but it does place them at higher risk than the general population.

There are also some modifiable risk factors that are linked to the development of breast cancer. These are things in our diet and lifestyle that can have an impact on our risk. Trying to eat a healthy diet, cutting down on alcohol intake and taking regular exercise, such as going for walks, throughout our lives helps protect us from developing illnesses including cancer.

Trying to find good resources as a breast cancer patient can be a minefield. Thankfully, a wonderful breast cancer patient advocate, Kay McKeon (@KayMckeon), has compiled a list of the top websites recommended by breast cancer patients. Check out her recommendations based on her research into resources available online:

The Irish Cancer Society is a great starting point for information on cancer and ICS services, resources and research.
ICS counselling service is FREE to people affected by cancer

The Building Resilience in Breast Cancer Centre – BRiC aims to reduce anxiety and improve quality of life for women with a breast cancer diagnosis

abcdiagnosis infographics help primary patients recognise red flag symptoms of secondary breast cancer. This website has a wealth of other resources and information.

American Society of Clinical Oncology has a dedicated website for people affected by cancer – Celebrating 20 years of #information for people with cancer, families, and caregivers. #ppi #awareness

American Cancer Society was recommended by patients and rated highly by the stakeholders who took part in my research. The site scored well in terms of usability and the quality of information it provides.

ESMO and its Patient Advocates Working Group work together to inform people about screening, diagnosis and treatment options for seven different types of cancer.