Breast Cancer Q&A

Ask the Consultant

Three of our leading breast cancer specialists answer questions about breast cancer awareness and early detection.

Mr Douglas Hansell

The most common symptoms of breast cancer include a lump, swelling, nipple change, inversion or discharge and skin changes including puckering and indents.


Mr Douglas Macmillan

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a breast lump. Other less common symptoms are distortion of the breast or changes in the appearance of the nipple. Any distortion, puckering, change of shape, skin change or nipple change should be investigated.

Certain types of discharge from the nipple, or a rash can represent underlying breast cancer and particularly pre-cancerous change of the breast. Breast cancer can also present as an inflammation of the breast or as lumps under the arm or, very rarely, as breast pain.


Claire Hayward

A change in size or shape, a lump or thickening to the breast that feels different, puckering and dimpling of the skin (like a peel of an orange), nipple pulled in (inverted), discharge to 1 or both nipples, constant pain in the breast or armpits, redness or rash around the breast or nipple or swelling in the armpit or collarbone.

Mr Douglas Hansell

Women should start checking their breasts from roughly 25 years onwards and once each month after their period.


Mr Douglas Macmillan

As a general rule women should examine their breasts occasionally (once a month, perhaps) and get used to the way their own breasts feel. They should get into the habit of this from their 20s onwards.

The breasts are best examined with the flat of the hand, compressing the breast in a gentle massage-type motion and feeling for any lumps between the flat of the hand and the underlying chest wall. Regular self-examination enables women to recognise what is a normal for them.


Claire Hayward

Breasts are fully developed by the age of 17 so advised to start checking regularly.

Mr Douglas Hansell

If a lump is found go to your GP, he/she will decide if referral to a breast clinic is indicated.


Mr Douglas Macmillan

If a woman finds a lump in her breast or an area of lumpiness that is definitely different and new then it should be investigated by a breast specialist. It is very difficult for GPs to distinguish between significant and non-significant breast lumps, hence seeing a breast specialist is the best option.

If the breast specialist isn't particularly concerned by the symptoms, an ultrasound of the breast and or a mammogram is likely to be performed to rule out anything sinister. If a definite lump is found by the specialist and/or a lump is seen on imaging, a biopsy is taken from the lump using a needle and local anaesthetic.


Claire Hayward

Report to a GP immediately.

Mr Douglas Hansell

Breast cancer is a common condition affecting one in eight women, but a strong family history, obesity and increasing age are specific risk factors.


Mr Douglas Macmillan

Breast cancer increases with age and over a lifetime the average woman has approximately a one in nine chance of developing it. Breast cancer is uncommon before the age of 50, with only one in 50 women developing breast cancer before this age. Other risk factors include having a family history of breast cancer and having certain types of benign breast changes.


Claire Hayward

Most common at risks factors are gender, getting older and a significant family history of the disease. Others could be, a previous breast cancer, period starting before the age of 12, being overweight especially after menopause and drinking more alcohol than the recommended amount.

Mr Douglas Hansell

Patients with a family history of breast cancer should be referred for assessment of risk, then possibly receive regular checks and imaging if at increased risk.


Mr Douglas Macmillan

Having a family history of breast cancer is the most common way of identifying women who are at increased risk of breast cancer. A significant family history is one in which there are either multiple relatives, relatives affected at a very young age, relatives who have had cancer in both breasts, relatives with breast and ovarian cancer or male breast cancer in the family, or a combination of these.

If a woman thinks she has a significant family history then she should seek advice. Women who are judged to have a significant family history are offered additional screening before the national screening age.


Claire Hayward

They should tell their GP and if thought appropriate they may be referred to a family clinic and possibly genetic testing.

Mr Douglas Hansell

Women are invited every three years between the ages of 50 to 70 (47-73 in England) for a mammogram, approximately 5% are recalled for further assessment and of these only a small percentage will have a breast cancer.


Mr Douglas Macmillan

Screening is by bilateral mammography, which involves taking two X-rays of each breast, and for this the breasts are compressed gently. In some clinics the results can be given the same day. A very small percentage of women are asked to return for another appointment to have another X-ray taken which will be to look from a different view at a particular area of the breast or to do a breast ultrasound, or to take a biopsy from something that has been seen on the mammogram.


Claire Hayward

Breast screening involves a mammogram, which is an X-ray examination of the breast. Breast cancer can be detected before any signs and symptoms. People are invited by the NHS for screening, but must be registered with a GP. Women are invited every 3 years from the age of 47. Results are sent home, or to the GP if further investigation is required.

Mr Douglas Hansell

Travelling fellowship in USA, setting up first NHS family history clinic in the West of Scotland, receiving local health council award for my NHS breast clinic at Stobhill Hospital and being Lead Clinician for Breast Services in NHS GG&C for two terms.


Mr Douglas Macmillan

Having trained in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Nottingham I have been privileged to work with some expert and inspirational specialists who have undoubtedly shaped my career.

Following their lead I am most proud of the national and international teaching meetings in Oncoplastic and Reconstructive Breast Surgery (ORBS) which I host and participate in.

Developing new techniques in oncoplastic and reconstructive breast surgery along with my colleagues and seeing these techniques being used widely to the benefit of women with breast cancer has been perhaps the main highlight.


Claire Hayward

My career highlight is starting my breast care nurse role at BMI Healthcare and working with the amazing women touched by breast cancer.

Whether you are concerned about your breasts, have a family history of breast cancer, are not eligible for a screening on the NHS or would simply like a more regular screening, we can offer you fast access to an expert diagnosis, at a time to suit you. BMI Healthcare have dedicated breast clinics which offer a prompt appointment with a specialist Breast Surgeon, screening and an accurate assessment all usually within 48 hours. Find out further information on breast screening, breast cancer treatments or download our breast cancer awareness guide.

  • Man Men's Health Discover engaging articles dedicated to male health. This includes advice, trends and interviews with our top male health Consultants.
  • Woman Women's Health Stay on top of your health with our tips, advice and Q&A’s with leading women’s health Consultants.
  • Runners Health and Wellbeing Get inspired for a healthier you. Find the latest in healthy living and fitness tips, as well as our medical and treatment updates.
  • Man Men's Health Discover engaging articles dedicated to male health. This includes advice, trends and interviews with our top male health Consultants.
  • Woman Women's Health Stay on top of your health with our tips, advice and Q&A’s with leading women’s health Consultants.
  • Runner Health and Wellbeing Get inspired for a healthier you. Find the latest in healthy living and fitness tips, as well as our medical and treatment updates.