Specialists classify the development of breast cancer into four stages to help them decide on the most suitable treatment.

Stage I - a small moveable tumour, measuring under 2cm, confined to the breast.

Stage II - a tumour measuring between two and five centimetres, or with spread to the lymph nodes, or both.

Stage III - a tumour larger than 5cm, the lymph nodes are usually affected, but there has been no further spread.

Stage IV - these tumours are of any size, but the lymph nodes are usually affected and the cancer has spread to other parts of the body forming secondaries. Radiotherapy can cause side effects such as reddening of the skin, nausea and fatigue.

Chemotherapy may make you more prone to infection and you may tire easily. Other side effects may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and hair loss. Some drugs make your mouth sore and cause small ulcers.

If you are worried about side effects, talk to your doctor, your radiotherapist or your breast care nurse. These, days much can be done to make treatment less distressing.

You should be aware of the risk of lymphoedema following surgery or radiotherapy. Lymph, a fluid that forms in the tissues of the body, normally drains back into the blood circulation through the lymphatic system. If the system is damaged during treatment, lymph may build up causing swelling. Although the damage to the system can't be repaired, there are precautions you can take to avoid overloading your remaining lymph drainage routes and ways of treating any swelling.

*For more information - Lymphoedema Support Network, St Luke's Crypt, Sydney Street, London SW3 6NH (0171 351 4480)