It is extremely important that every woman is very familiar with the way in which their breasts look and feel. They form a key part of a women’s unique identity, therefore it’s crucial that breast health becomes an important part of our regular overall health and wellbeing check.
Detecting breast cancer early leads to better outcomes so knowing your breasts during menstrual cycles, how to perform a self-examination and being aware of potential warning signs are all very important.
If you become concerned about changes to your breast it’s important not to delay and put your mind at ease. Visit your GP for an investigation and referral to a breast specialist for further tailored screening for breast malignancy if required.
Watch the video on breast pain below and read some of the common FAQ’s below for more information.
Frequently Asked Questions
Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women. In 2018, it is estimated that 18,235 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Australia.
In 2017, the risk of women being diagnosed with breast cancer is 1 in 8 females. It is important to remember that most women survive breast cancer. The latest statistics show that the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is more than 90 per cent. Many women will live long and healthy lives well beyond this period.
Breast cancer in men is rare. It is estimated that 148 men will be diagnosed in Australia in 2018.
A snapshot of breast cancer in Australia
Australian women have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of developing breast cancer
The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age
The average age of first diagnosis of breast cancer in women is 60 years
75 per cent of new cases of breast cancer develop in women over the age of 50
Many breast cancers are discovered as a result of a mammogram. You may have no symptoms, but at a regular check-up your mammogram shows a lump, or change, in your breast.
Sometimes, your doctor may notice a change in your breast through a breast examination, or you may notice a change yourself or discover a lump during self-examination. If you find a change in your breast that is unusual for you, you should see your GP without delay.
Your doctor will order a series of tests to find out if the change is due to cancer including mammogram and/or ultrasound with or without a biopsy. Nine out of ten breast changes aren’t due to cancer, but it’s important to see a doctor to be sure.
When breast cancer is detected early you have a greater chance of being treated successfully. One way to do this is to regularly perform a breast self-examination. Women can begin practicing breast self-examinations at about age 20 and continue the practice throughout their lives.
Breast self-examination can be performed every month. The best time to do a breast self-examination is when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen, such as a few days after your period ends. Postmenopausal women should choose the most convenient or easily remembered time such as the first day of each month.
Stand in front of a mirror large enough to see both breasts clearly. Check each breast for anything unusual. Check the skin for puckering, dimpling, or scaliness. Look for discharge from the nipples.
- Press your hands firmly on your hips and bend slightly toward the mirror as you pull your shoulders and elbows forward. Look for any change in the normal shape of your breasts.
- Raise your arms and rest your hands behind your head. Check the underside of your breasts.
- The breasts are best examined while lying down because it spreads the breast tissue evenly over the chest. Lie flat on your back, with one arm over your head and a pillow or folded towel under the shoulder. This position flattens the breast and makes it easier to check.
- Use the pads of three or four fingers of your other hand to check the breast and the surrounding area firmly.
- Feel for any unusual lump or mass under the skin. Feel the tissue by pressing your fingers in small, overlapping areas about the size of a coin. To be sure you cover the whole breast, take your time and follow a definite pattern: lines, circles, or wedges like the pictures below.
One of the most important reasons to do regular breast self-examination is so that you know what is normal for your breasts. If you see or feel something different or unusual while performing a breast self-examination see your GP without delay.
The symptoms of breast cancer depend on where the tumour is in the breast, the size of the tumour and how quickly it is growing.
Breast changes that may indicate breast cancer include:
- a new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
- a change in the size or shape of the breast
- a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion (nipple turned inwards)
- a nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
- a change in the skin of the breast such as redness or dimpling
- an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.
There are a number of conditions that may cause these symptoms, not just breast cancer. If any of these symptoms are experienced, it is important that they are discussed with a doctor.
It is difficult to pinpoint why some women get breast cancer and others don’t. There are some risk factors which may increase your risk of developing breast cancer but having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will definitely develop breast cancer.
Known risk factors include:
- Being a woman
- Getting older
- Inheriting a faulty gene that increases the risk
- Having a strong family history of breast cancer
Treatment for early breast cancer may involve breast surgery (including surgery to the armpit), radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. Surgery for early breast cancer involves either breast conserving surgery or mastectomy. Breast reconstruction may be possible after a mastectomy.
Both types of breast surgery usually also involve surgery to remove one or more lymphnodes from the armpit.
If an oncoplastic approach is not possible, breast reconstruction is to be considered. This surgery aims to rebuild the breast shape after mastectomy. There are two main types of breast reconstruction:
- Surgical insertion of a breast implant.
- Transfer of a portion of tissue, skin and often muscle from another part of the body to the chest area – this is called a tissue flap breast reconstruction.