Information about breast cancer

Breast cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the breasts. The breast cancer cells can grow uncontrollably and spread into surrounding breast tissue. They can also spread to other parts of the body.


Symptoms and signs of breast cancer may include:

  • change in size or appearance of a breast
  • breast lumps
  • changes around the nipple area or underarm
  • changes to the skin over the breast
  • abnormal nipple discharge.

When to call a doctor

If you experience any of the above changes, seek medical help for prompt evaluation.

Research suggests hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors may contribute to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Factors associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:

  • being a woman: the single biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer
  • age and family history
  • being overweight or obese
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • smoking.

Breast cancer can be diagnosed in two ways:

  1. Screening — you can access free breast screening services by phoning BreastScreen NSW on 132 050.
  2. Self-detection — if you feel a lump in your breast and are concerned, see your GP or attend our Breast Health Clinic who can arrange for screening with a mammogram and/or ultrasound.

Screening mammograms can detect abnormalities such as a lump that is too small to feel, or some calcium deposits. If these are found, a fine-needle or core biopsy is done to prove the diagnosis. If the biopsy comes back normal, but the mammogram looks abnormal, it is still best to ask for a referral to a breast surgeon.

At this stage you may have been told your diagnosis by your breast physician, general practitioner or BreastScreen.

After a diagnosis is confirmed, a detailed clinical assessment is carried out by an expert multidisciplinary team.

Your case will be presented at a multidisciplinary team meeting with collaborative discussion about the best possible treatment and outcomes for the case specific to your tumour. After the meeting, your specialists will meet with you to discuss their recommendations and provide a detailed explanation of possible treatment options.

The final decision regarding the treatment and care plan is made in consultation with you. Cancer specialists work collaboratively to develop an individualised care plan for you and they are supported by oncology nurses and allied health professionals.

Surgery for breast cancer will depend on your diagnosis but can be one of:

  • breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy or wide local excision) followed by radiotherapy
  • standard mastectomy without a reconstruction
  • skin and nipple-sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction
  • mastectomy with immediate reconstruction using implants.

Other treatments that may be used in conjunction with surgery are:

  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy — either before or after surgery, depending on your diagnosis
  • hormone therapy.

Factors shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer include:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • exercise
  • breastfeeding
  • reduce your alcohol intake
  • don't smoke
  • minimise use of hormone replacement therapy
  • medicine and surgery for people at high risk.

Breast Cancer current clinical trials: DESTINY-Breast 02

A phase 3, multicentre, randomised, open-label, active-controlled study of DS-8201a, an anti-HER2-antibody drug conjugate, versus treatment of investigator's choice for HER2-positive, unresectable and/or metastatic breast cancer subjects pre-treated with prior standard of care HER2 therapies, including TDM1.

Learn more about the DESTINY clinical trial.