Breast cancer develops when cells in the breast grow and multiply abnormally.
Each year more than 20 000 Australians are diagnosed with breast cancer.
At Gault Surgery, we understand a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, stressful, and often comes with a lot of questions. Our aim is to make sure you are empowered with accurate, up-to-date information so you can make the best decisions about your treatment, with confidence.
Here we will answer some of the most common questions we get about breast cancer.
What is Breast Cancer?
Millions of tiny cells make up the organs and tissues in your body. Normally these cells grow and divide in a controlled way.
Cancer cells are not like normal cells.
They grow and divide out of control, forming a lump.
Breast Cancer is when cancer cell growth begins in the breast tissue.
Breast cancer most commonly forms in the cells that make up the breast’s lobules (small sacks that produce breast milk) and ducts (tubes that carry breast milk to the nipple). Breast cancer can also form in your breasts fibrous connective tissue and fatty tissue.
The site where the cancer begins is called the primary cancer.
If primary cancer cells spread into surrounding tissue, this is called invasive cancer. Invasive cancer cells can travel into the lymph nodes under the arm, providing a pathway for the cancer to move into other parts of the body.
Are there different types of breast cancer?
Yes, there are several different types and subtypes of breast cancer. Because the term ‘breast cancer doesn’t just refer to one single disease, you may find your experience could be very different from someone else’s.
Breast cancers fall into two main categories:
- Non-invasive breast cancers- these occur when the cancer cells are in the duct or the lobules of the breast without growing into the surrounding tissue. They are known as ‘carcinoma in situ. They include:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
- Invasive breast cancer- These cancers occur when cancerous cells invade surrounding tissue. They include:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC)
- Invasive lobule carcinoma (ILC)
How common is breast cancer?
Breast Cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in Australian women, second only to skin cancer.
Approximately 1 in 7 Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
The good news is, most people survive their breast cancer diagnosis.
Thanks to modern medicine, breast cancer, when contained in the breast, is often treatable with 5-year survival rates as high as 92%.
Can men develop breast cancer?
Yes, they can.
It may surprise you to learn that men can get breast cancer too. While it’s more common in women, 1 in 600 Australian men are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Most of these men are aged over 50.
The symptoms of breast cancer in men are like the those experienced by women, including, lumps and changes in the feel or appearance of the breast or nipple.
What if I have a family history of breast cancer?
While having relatives who have experienced breast cancer is a risk factor, most people who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history.
While breast cancer itself is not inherited, some people may inherit a gene that puts them at a greater risk. It is important to note, less than 5% of cancers are caused by an inherited gene fault.
Women who have a strong family history may be referred to a family cancer clinic. These clinics provide genetic testing advice, specific risk assessments, and individualised risk management plans.
For women at particularly high risk of developing breast cancer due to family history, treatment options exist, including medication that may reduce risk.
What are the risk factors for developing breast cancer?
Several factors can contribute to your risk of developing breast cancer, including:
- Family history
- Environmental factors
- Reproductive history
- Medical history
Remember, having risk factors does not guarantee you’ll develop cancer.
Many people have one or more risk factors and never go on to develop cancer, while some people, with no risk factors, do.
While many of these risk factors, like family history and genetics, can’t be changed, your risk may be reduced, and outcomes may be improved by making healthy lifestyle choices and by being breast aware.
For a more in-depth look at breast cancer risk factors and what signs to look out for check out our blog post here.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer and how’s it diagnosed?
The symptoms you feel are very dependent on your cancer’s location, size, and rate of growth.
Common symptoms can include:
- A lump or thickening in either your breast or armpit
- Swelling or changes in breast shape
- Changes to your breast’s skin (redness, dimpling, rash, etc.)
- Pain in your breast, nipple, or armpit
- Changes to the shape, feel, or colour of your nipple
- Discharge from your nipple (other than breast milk)
You can read more about breast cancer warning signs in our blog post.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms the first step is to see your general practitioner (GP).
Your GP will take your medical history and family history and perform a breast exam. This involves checking both breasts, all the way up to your collarbones, and checking the lymph nodes under your arms.
It can be hard not to worry while waiting for a diagnosis, but remember, not all breast changes are due to cancer.
How can Gault Surgery Help?
Your GP can refer you to us at Gault Surgery for screening and to diagnose the cause of your breast changes, and to plan your treatment. Screening can include mammograms, ultrasound, MRI, Lymphoscintigraphy, and biopsy.
At Gault Surgery we understand the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis. We are here to empower, educate and comfort you throughout your journey, from diagnosis, through surgery and beyond.