Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia, with 1 in 8 women being diagnosed by the time they reach 85 years old.

Whilst receiving this diagnosis can be daunting, it is important to remember that most people survive breast cancer. Our understanding and management of breast cancer has advanced significantly over the last few years, with early detection and improved treatments leading to better outcomes for patients.

Risk factors

Things which increase the chance of developing a breast cancer include:

  • Female gender

    • men can still get breast cancer and it is important they have any breast change investigated by a doctor, however breast cancer is much more common in women.​

  • Age

    • the risk of breast cancer increases as we get older

  • Family history of breast cancer

    • Especially if multiple family members have had breast cancer, or if they have been diagnosed at a young age (under 50 years)​

    • Your doctor will also ask about other cancers in the family.

    • Only 5% of women with breast cancer will have a hereditary genetic mutation​

Some other factors​ that can increase breast cancer risk to a lesser extent are:

  • Obesity

  • Alcohol

  • Some types of atypical breast changes (usually found on biopsy of the breast)​

Symptoms

Any new change in the breast needs to be investigated.

Breast cancer changes can include:

  • Lump

  • Skin thickening

  • Nipple discharge

  • Change in shape of the breast

  • Nipple inversion

If a cancer is found at Breast Screen then there may be no symptoms.​

Investigations

After your Breast Surgeon has taken a history and examined your breast, there are several investigations that may be involved in the diagnosis and staging of breast cancer:

  • Mammogram

  • Breast Ultrasound

  • Breast MRI

  • Core biopsy

  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy

Treatment

There are several steps in the treatment of breast cancer.

Surgery is usually the first step, followed by adjuvant treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and endocrine (tablet) therapy.

The decision as to what adjuvant treatments are recommended is usually made in a Multidisciplinary Meeting, where each case is reviewed by specialists in Surgery, Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, as well as Radiologists and Pathologists.

Surgery

The aim of surgery is to remove the cancer, at the same time gathering more information.

The cancer is removed with a lumpectomy or sometimes a mastectomy. If a mastectomy is necessary, breast reconstruction is usually possible, either at the same time or at a later date.

Surgery will also include the lymph glands in the armpit, either as a sentinel node biopsy or axillary clearance.

In some situations other treatments (e.g. chemotherapy) will come before surgery. Again, this decision is made in a multidisciplinary team setting.

Support

The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is a life-changing event with significant associated stress.

It is important to remember that most women survive breast cancer and there are many sources of support for those with cancer.

Waverley Private Hospital has a Breast Care Nurse who will meet you around the time of your surgery and can provide support to you and your family through your journey from pre admission, throughout treatment and on after discharge from the hospital.

There are also many excellent online resources available.