Breast Cancer

Breast cancer occurs when the cells lining the breast lobules or ducts grow abnormally and out of control. A tumour can form in the ducts or lobules of the breast.

When the cells that look like breast cancer are still confined to the ducts or lobules of the breast, it is called pre-invasive breast cancer.

Most breast cancers are found when they are invasive. This means the cancer has spread outside the ducts or lobules of the breast into surrounding tissue.


Signs include:

a lump, lumpiness or thickening
changes to the nipple, such as a change in shape, crusting, a sore or an ulcer, redness, unusual discharge, or a nipple that turns in (inverted) when it used to stick out
changes to the skin of the breast, such as dimpling of the skin, unusual redness or other colour changes
an increase or decrease in the size of the breast
a change to the shape of the breast
swelling or discomfort in the armpit
persistent, unusual pain that is not related to your normal monthly menstrual cycle, remains after a period and occurs in one breast only.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women, representing 28% of all cancers in women.
About 14,000 women are diagnosed each year.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85.
Although it can occur at any age, breast cancer is more common in older women.
More than two in three (69%) are diagnosed in women aged 40–69. About one in four (25%) are diagnosed in women aged 70 and over.
Nearly 80% of women diagnosed had invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), while about 11% had invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC).
About 130 men are diagnosed in Australia each year. This represents less than 1% of all breast cancers.
Reducing your risk

Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing breast cancer, particularly for women who have been through menopause.
Be physically active. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. Research suggests that vigorous exercise when you’re young might provide lifelong protection against breast cancer, and that even moderate physical
activity as an adult can lower your risk of developing breast cancer
Limit or avoid drinking alcohol. About 1 in 8 breast cancers may be attributable to alcohol consumption. If you do choose to drink, limit yourself to no more than 1 standard drink a day.
Don’t smoke. There is no clear link between smoking and breast cancer, but toxins from cigarettes have been found in breast cells. As smoking is a major cause of heart disease, lung cancer and many other cancers, not smoking is always a smart health choice
Finding breast cancer early

Finding breast cancer early is the most important factor in beating this disease. If you have a small or localised breast cancer (a cancer that has not spread) you have a better chance of survival than if your cancer has spread by the time it is diagnosed.

At different ages there are various steps you can take to help find breast cancer early.

Women of all ages should know how their breasts normally look and feel. Study your breasts in the mirror and feel them from time to time. Knowing what is normal will help you find any new or unusual breast changes. See your doctor straight away if you notice any changes that are unusual for you such as:

a new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only one breast
change in the size or shape of your breast
change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion
nipple discharge
change in the skin of the breast such as redness or dimpling
persistent or unusual pain, if this is not related to your monthly cycle.
women aged 40-49 can have free breast screening, however their breast tissue is denser than older women’s and mammograms may not be reliable
if you are aged between 40-44 the harms of screening may outweigh the benefits – speak to your doctor about your individual circumstances.
women aged 50-74 should have a mammogram every two years. Call BreastScreen on 13 20 50 to book a free mammogram
women 75 and over may also have free screening mammograms. Talk to your doctor about whether you should continue to have mammograms.
HRT and breast cancer

There is evidence to suggest that using combined HRT (oestrogen and progestin) increases the risk of breast cancer and other health problems. The risk increases with the duration of use, so we do not recommend that women use combined HRT for more than one or two years. Women who have been on combined HRT long term can reduce the associated risks by stopping its use.