TV Soap Actress, 56, Is Told By Doctor She Had A ‘Cyst’ It Turned Out To Be Stage 3 Breast Cancer

Published Apr 25, 2022

Abigail Seaberg

Understanding Breast Cancer

  • Actress Malandra Burrows, 56, was recently diagnosed with stage three breast cancer after her first doctor told her she had a cyst.
  • Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research, so there are many treatment optinos out there. Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives.
  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.

Enduring a cancer misdiagnosis is heartbreaking. And one relieved actress quickly shifted to “combat mode” when it took more than one appointment to catch her breast cancer.

Actress Malandra Burrows, 56, was exercising when she first felt a lump in her breast.

“I just happened to catch myself and thought, ‘Good grief, what’s that?’” she said. “I thought it must be a gland, but a few days later it was still there, so I rang my GP and they asked if I could come in the next hour.”

Burrows, most famous for her role on the British soap opera Emmerdale, eventually ended up in the hospital. But the first news she received – although seemingly good – was misleading to say the least.

“A week later I was at the hospital and the first consultant told me it was a cyst He said: ‘I won’t be seeing you again,’” she explained. “The relief I felt!”

After a follow up mammogram, Burrows was called back to see her doctor in February of this year. That’s when she was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer in her left breast. She’s since had a tumor removed and is set to undergo six months of chemotherapy. She’s also in the process of deciding whether or not she’ll have a mastectomy.

“There is no point in having wonderful boobs that are your own but you’re pushing up daisies,” she said. “This is saving your life, so if it’s got to be done.”

But even with a long road of treatment ahead of her, Burrows is doing everything she can to stay positive.

“You’ve got to make nice moments, they become so precious,” she said. “Even though they might be so simple, when you’ve got cancer, they become wonderful, momentous ones.”

Looking back on it all, Burrows is wishing she underwent her routine mammogram earlier as her mammogram was previously cancelled due to the pandemic. But now she’s sharing her story to urge other women to prioritize their routine mammograms and pay attention to their bodies.

“Regardless of age, if something seems odd, speak to your [general practicioner],” she said.

Understanding Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.

There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.

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“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.

The Unique Features of Breast Cancer: Deciding the Right Course of Treatment

One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.

The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening

Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.

For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30.

Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.

In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.

When Should I Get a Mammogram?

“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years.

“But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”

RELATED: Check Your Breasts Today, and Once Every Month; Survivor Giuliana Rancic Stresses Its Importance

It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.

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