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Breast cancers

NI Direct has lots of information on breast cancers in women and in men, including:

  • symptoms
  • causes
  • screening
  • types
  • treatments
  • after-care

  • Types

    There are many types of breast cancer. Your diagnosis will have an impact on the possible treatments.

    The most common types of breast cancer include:

    • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
    • Invasive ductal breast cancer (IDC)
    • Invasive lobular breast cancer (ILC)
    • Inflammatory breast cancer
    • Paget’s disease of the breast


    Read more information on the various types of breast cancer.

  • Referral
    Referral by GP

    Patients referred by their GP for specialist breast advice and treatment will receive a letter from Belfast City Hospital.

    The letter will ask you to ring the hospital to make an appointment to attend the outpatient breast clinic.

    NI Breast Screening Programme

    The Public Health Agency has established a breast screening programme that covers all of Northern Ireland.

    Breast outpatient clinic

    The breast clinic is located on Wing A of the Outpatient Department on the ground floor of Belfast City Hospital Tower.

    At the clinic, a member of the nursing team will call your name and take you into a consultation room. You may be asked to remove your clothes to the waist and given a cape to wear so you can be examined easily.

    You may be asked questions about:

    • symptoms – pain, lumps, nipple discharge
    • periods
    • menopause
    • the contraceptive pill or HRT
    • children
    • family history of breast disease

    At the clinic, you may be sent for further diagnostic investigations (see next section).

    Breast Family History Clinic

    If you have been referred because of a family history of breast cancer, you will be asked to complete a family history questionnaire prior to attendance at the clinic in order that an assessment of your risk can completed.

    Breast Family History resources are available to provide further information and guidance.

  • Investigations and diagnosis

    The breast clinic operates a ‘one stop’ service. The aim is to complete all necessary tests on the same day as the patient’s appointment with a breast consultant.

    Tests may include:

  • Multi-disciplinary team

    A range of people are involved in the care of breast cancer patients. This is known as a multi-disciplinary team (MDT). It consists of:

    • consultant breast surgeons
    • consultant breast radiologists
    • radiographers
    • pathologists / cytologists
    • oncologists
    • breast care nurses
    • breast nurse practitioner
    • admin staff


    The team discusses each patient’s case in detail. This ensures there is a personalised care plan in place for every patient.

    A record of this discussion will be sent to each patient’s GP.

  • Breast care nurses

    Specialist breast care nurses are present at clinics. They are able to provide information, advice, education and support to people attending the clinic.

    Breast care nurses can play a vital role for patients. You can ask questions or discuss the effect your diagnosis has had on you. The support from breast care nurses continues from diagnosis until your treatment is complete.

    You will be given the number of a breast care nurse you can contact for support or information. This number is linked to an answer machine. You can leave a message with your name and telephone number and the breast care nurse will ring back as soon as possible.

  • Treatment

    There are several ways of treating breast cancer. Your surgery and / or treatment will be tailored to your needs and discussed fully with you before it begins.

    No treatment will be carried out without your consent.

    Information on the treatment options:


    Most primary breast cancers will be treated with surgery to remove the tumour. The surgery will be tailored to your particular needs.

    There are three common types of breast cancer surgery:


    Surgery may also involve testing or removing lymph nodes from the armpit. Read more information on lymph node surgery.


    Patients having surgery will be given an appointment to attend the pre-assessment clinic before their operation. This is to ensure you are fit for the procedure.

    An anaesthetist will ask about your general health and any previous experiences with anaesthetics, including side effects such as sickness.

    If necessary, you may be asked to have an anaesthetic assessment. This may require an overnight stay.

    A member of staff will explain the operation and any potential complications. They will also mark where the lump is on the skin of your breast.


    You will be asked to sign a consent form before surgery. No medical treatment can be given without patient consent.

    It is important that you read and understand this form before signing it.

    Day of surgery

    A breast care nurse will visit you while you are in hospital. They will discuss the planned surgery and answer any questions you may have

    A nurse will also prepare you for theatre. You will be asked to remove jewellery (except your wedding ring) dentures and contact lenses.

  • Follow-up

    After treatment has finished, you will be asked to come back to the hospital for a check-up. A consultant or breast care nurse will explain this follow-up process.

    If you have any problems or notice any new, persistent symptoms in between follow-up appointments, contact your GP or a specialist doctor.

    Self-directed aftercare

    When treatment is complete, some patients may be able to take part in ‘self-directed aftercare’ arrangements. These allow you to take responsibility for and control your own healthcare.

    A doctor or nurse will discuss this with you if it’s appropriate.

  • Useful links

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