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Patient story: Hairdresser back to work after breast cancer study

Colleen Thomson returned to her job as a hairdresser after volunteering for a breast cancer study at Milton Keynes University Hospital.

She was approached by a research nurse who told her about the study, which is looking at whether an extra surgery to the armpit is necessary if the cancer has spread there.

She said: “I was approached soon after my diagnosis in the breast care unit. They felt because of my age, the type of breast cancer I had and where it was situated, I would be the ideal candidate.”

Women who have surgery for breast cancer also undergo the removal of one or two lymph nodes in the armpit to see if the cancer has spread.

If the cancer has spread to the armpit, patients are offered further surgery to remove all of the lymph nodes in the armpit.

This can have long-term side effects such as swelling of the arm, shoulder stiffness or numbness of the hand.

Evidence suggests armpit surgery is unnecessary and researchers believe that drugs and radiotherapy to the breast alone can treat the cancer that has spread.

Women on the study are randomly allocated to undergo either armpit surgery or radiotherapy to the breast alone to compare the two.

Miss Thomson said: “I was quite relieved knowing that I wouldn’t have to have extra surgery. I had eight lymph nodes removed, only the first two had cancer. It wouldn’t have made any sense for me for them to operate again to remove the rest of them.

“If given the opportunity, you should take up the invitation to take part in research, simply because it’s got to help other people in the future, hasn’t it?”

She said of her condition: “It’s affected my life drastically. It meant that I couldn’t work; being a hairdresser I’m on my feet all day, waving my arms around. It’s quite a physical, mental and emotional job.”

Miss Thomson is cancer free and back at her job as a hair stylist at the Cutting Company in Woburn Sands.

She said: “I certainly would recommend research to other people if given the opportunity and think it’s the right thing to do.”