Referral to a breast cancer clinic, side-effects of treatment and support

 

Breast cancer

Read the answers to your questions about referrals to breast clinics, the side-effects of treatment and support for people with breast cancer, as part of our Breast Cancer Q&A with experts from Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Care.

 

Referral to breast clinic

Letter Qsupergreenuk: I have a lump. Very different from breast tissue and I would say pinhead size. I went to get it checked out at the breast clinic. They gave me a scan and said it was fine but to come back in there months if it is still there, or has got bigger. Is it possible they think it could still be something if they want me to go back for further tests in three months. Why not do further tests now?

Letter ABreast Cancer Care nursing team: The types of tests used in a breast clinic include a breast examination, a mammogram and/or ultrasound scan and a fine needle aspiration (FNA) or core biopsy. These tests are known as triple assessment.

Women under the age of 35 are more likely to have an ultrasound scan but not a mammogram, as younger women's breast tissue is usually dense and may not give a clear or helpful image on a mammogram. Not everyone will require an FNA or core biopsy. This will depend on your symptom and the findings of the ultrasound scan and/or mammogram.

For the majority of women, these tests will show a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition, which will not require any treatment or follow-up. Some changes that happen in the breast resolve on their own and are usually due to the normal changes in hormones that occur in the female body. As your specialist has not asked specifically to see you again this would indicate that after checking your lump he/she is not concerned about it. However, it is common to ask women to keep a check on the symptom and see their GP or specialist again if the symptoms persist or change in any way so you can be checked again.

Anyone who is referred to a breast clinic can find out more information on what to expect at their appointment by reading Breast Cancer Care's free publication Referral to a breast clinic or by contacting the Breast Cancer Care helpline on 0808 800 6000. 

You can also email any questions to our Ask the nurse email service and you will receive a reply from one of our specialist nurses. This service is available to anyone in the UK.

 

Possible side-effects of breast cancer treatment 

Letter Q

Highlander: If you've had chemo, should you have an echo of your heart and regular check-ups with a cardiologist?

Letter ABreast Cancer Care nursing team: The types and combinations of chemotherapy drugs given to treat breast cancer may vary from person to person and will affect people in different ways. There are some common side-effects, but two people receiving the same combination of drugs may experience different side-effects and feel completely different, both during and after their treatment.

Some drugs have rarer side-effects. One particular group of chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines can potentially cause heart problems. These drugs are generally not suitable for anyone with existing heart conditions.

Heart problems caused by the use of these drugs are not common, but before starting chemotherapy treatment specialists may arrange a heart function test like an echocardiogram (echo) or electrocardiogram (ECG) to make sure the heart is working normally. Unless any symptoms of heart problems occur, there is usually no need to repeat the heart tests or be seen regularly by a cardiologist.

There is a slight chance that heart problems may occur in people who receive the targeted therapy drug Herceptin. Again, for this reason a heart function test will carried out before treatment starts, and also approximately every three months during treatment.

Heart problems are most often seen when Herceptin is given at the same time as chemotherapy, especially with anthracyclines, or if somebody already has heart problems before starting Herceptin.

Only a very small number of people who receive these drugs experience heart problems (and these are usually not serious) and need to be regularly seen by a cardiologist. However, problems do occur, referral to a cardiologist may be needed and the Herceptin and/or chemotherapy may be stopped temporarily.

Breast Cancer Care has a wide range of publications about breast cancer treatment and side-effects, which you can read on our website or order free of charge from our helpline on 0808 800 6000.

 

Support for people diagnosed with breast cancer

Letter Qlisad123isgoingcrazy: Many people come on here and ask how they can help a friend or friend's partner who is diagnosed with cancer. It would be helpful to have a list of ideas on how to help, written by people who have been through it.

Letter ABreast Cancer Care Nursing Team: There is no perfect answer, but just being there, showing that you care, and listening carefully to your friend's needs will show you where you can play a part. Asking about how you can support a friend/colleague/family member or husband/partner when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer is a very frequent question to our Helpline and Ask the Nurse service. 

How people would like to be supported after a diagnosis of breast cancer is very variable. Every individual is different and has a personal preference, so it's difficult to come up with a list that would be right for everyone. 

At Breast Cancer Care we know that how people themselves react to their breast cancer diagnosis can depend on their personal life experience and also of those around them. Some women feel they must put on a brave face for family, friends and even the doctors and nurses looking after them. Others prefer to let their feelings show and draw strength and support from people close to them. 

Having treatment for cancer can often make a person feel very fatigued and the tasks that are done in a day when caring for a family can become difficult and exhausting. You might be able to offer support by;

  • Keeping in touch and listening
  • Acting as the person who keeps others informed 
  • Offering practical help such as cooking a meal or collecting the children from school

It is also useful to remember that when the treatment is over the listening and support are still really important to help with the recovery over the months ahead. 

If you're not sure what to do, Breast Cancer Care has many support systems in place for women diagnosed with breast cancer and those affected by breast cancer. Many breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50 so being diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age can be an isolating experience. We understand the different issues faced by younger women as well as those over the age of 50.

Those with families may find Breast Cancer Care's two publications that deal with talking to children about a diagnosis of breast cancer helpful. Talking with your children about breast cancer is aimed at parents of school-aged children and the publication called Mummy's lump is the UK's first-ever book to help young children whose mums have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Probably one of the most helpful services when you are newly diagnosed is to talk to someone who has been there, and knows what it's like and what to expect. Breast Cancer Care's one-to-one telephone support service can put someone affected by breast cancer in touch with a trained volunteer. It's a chance to talk openly about any fears you may have with someone who understands what you are going through, without the worry of needing to protect family and friends from their feelings.

Our Discussion forums, Ask the Nurse email service, free Helpline and Younger women's residential events are all available free of charge.

Anyone diagnosed with breast cancer can access our support services , and you can also read more in our booklet called Support for younger women with breast cancer or enquire about any of our services or publications by contacting our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.
 

 

Disclaimer
We have made every effort to ensure that the content of these answers is accurate and up to date, but we accept no liability in relation to typographical errors or third-party information. Please be aware that the responses from the Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer teams are not a substitute for professional medical care. If you have any concerns about your breast health or any treatment you are receiving you should discuss these with your doctor. Responses from Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer are only accurate at the time of posting as medical knowledge and treatment can change over time.

Last updated: 11-Oct-2010 at 6:00 PM