Secondary breast cancer symptoms include a cough – mum’s story

A woman discovered she had cancer for the second time after suffering a cough and a pain in her side.

Victoria Powers, 34, was diagnosed with incurable secondary breast cancer – that had spread to the lungs, liver and bones – five years after being given the all clear from a primary form of the disease.

The mum-of-one was first told she had breast cancer in 2017, after finding rice-sized lumps on her chest.

She then underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a double mastectomy and was told she was cancer-free in December of that year.

But just five years later Victoria, from Great Wyrley in Staffordshire, noticed a cough that she couldn’t shift.

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Speaking to Black Country Live, Victoria said: “My grandad passed away at the start of December and I had a bit of a cough.

“I rang the GP who gave me antibiotics over the phone two days before Christmas.

“It didn’t clear so I rang them back but I couldn’t get an appointment as it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“I was out with friends when I got a pain in my side alongside the cough so they took me to A&E.

“It was 10pm at night and there were 172 people waiting to be seen so I said I didn’t want to stay, I didn’t feel like I needed to. A lady told us to come back the following morning when it was quieter.”

On New Year’s Eve Victoria went back with her mum. She was told I had a high pulse rate and low oxygen so they wanted her to stay.

However, tests came back negative. Victoria said: “A doctor then told me that the CT scan was clear and I was sent home with some antibiotics.

“I had a routine appointment with my breast surgeon and he asked how I’d been.”

The surgeon revealed that the CT scan she had on New Year’s Eve in A&E actually wasn’t clear and there were shadows on her lungs and liver.

“For them to have missed it when I flagged as an oncology patient, you think they would have noticed something on the lungs,” she said.

An ultrasound, biopsy, CT scan and bone imaging scan confirmed that Victoria had cancer across her body.

She recalled: “Your risk of cancer returning is supposed to reduce as the years go on and I rang the bell to show five years clear in December 2022.

“And then a few weeks later I was slapped in the face after finding out it was back and had spread. I deteriorated in January when I was waiting for biopsy results and got weaker and weaker.”

Since then Victoria has undergone three cycles of chemotherapy.

Her eight-year-old son, Jacob, even helped to shave her head before the treatment.

Victoria said: “Jacob knows that I’m poorly but he doesn’t know the extent of it. He helped my mum shave my head because that’s a visible side to it so I wanted it explained to him.”

Also supporting Victoria are her friends Jamie-Ann Edwards, Sarah Arnott, Jo Edwards and Gemma Williamson who are set to complete the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for her family.

So far their Go Fund Me page has raised more than £10,000.

Secondary breast cancer

If a cancer is secondary, it means it has spread elsewhere in the body.

According to Cancer Research UK, secondary breast cancer often affects the liver, lungs, brain or bones.

When this occurs the symptoms will be different to those of primary breast cancer.

If the cancer has spread to the lungs, as it did for Victoria, symptoms can include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Ongoing chest infections
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • A build-up of fluid between the chest wall and the lung (a pleural effusion).

The NHS says symptoms of primary breast cancer include a:

  • New lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
  • Change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
  • Lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness
  • Rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
  • Change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.

If you experience any symptoms of primary or secondary breast cancer you should see your GP.

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