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Breast Cancer


What is it?

Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that originates in the cells of the breast. Cancer develops when the cells grow abnormally and multiply. These abnormal cells develop into cancerous growths that can, in some cases, spread (metastasise) to other areas of the body.

Breast cancer occurs predominantly in females, although men can also develop the disease, accounting for approximately 1% of cases. There is no 'one disease' that occurs in the breast, rather there are several types and sub-types of disease that may be referred to as breast cancer. These include:

• Early/invasive breast cancer

• Ductal carcinoma insitu

• Lobular carcinoma insitu

• Triple negative breast cancer

• Paget's disease of the nipple

• Inflammatory breast cancer

• Locally advanced breast cancer

• Secondary breast cancer (also known as advanced or metastatic breast cancer)

• Male breast cancer

Breast Cancer Facts

• 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer

• In 2017, it is estimated that 17,586 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer

• Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian women, representing 28% of all cancers in females with the majority (69%) of cases diagnosed in females aged 40-69

• On average 37 females are diagnosed with breast cancer everyday

• By 2020, 17,210 women are projected to be diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia. This is an average of 47 women every day. Increasing age is one of the strongest risk factors for developing breast cancer

• Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer have an 89% chance of surviving 5 years after diagnosis

• Improvements in survival are attributed to earlier detection of breast cancer through regular mammograms and improved treatment outcomes for breast cancer

• 8 women die from breast cancer each day

• Although rare, breast cancer can affect men. 1 in 688 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer

How does breast cancer affect Australians?

In 2017, breast cancer in females is expected to be the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia and fourth-largest cause of cancer related deaths. It is also estimated that 3000 Australian women will lose their battle with breast cancer in 2017 – that's 8 women a day, making it the second most common cause of cancer-related death in women, after lung cancer.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom for breast cancer is a lump found in the breast or armpit. The lumps can be benign and do not spread to other parts of the body or they can be malignant (cancerous). The best way to identify breast cancer is to do a monthly breast self-exam and become familiar with your breasts' texture, cyclical changes, size and skin condition so you pick up any changes that might suggest cancer. Symptoms can include:

• Swelling, lump or thickness in the breast

• Changes to the skin of the breast such as puckering or dimpling of the skin or unusual redness or other colour change

• Unusual tenderness, breast pain or discomfort or change in size of breast

• Change in shape, crusting, pain or soreness of the nipple

• Nipple discharge that is clear or bloody that occurs without squeezing

• Swelling in the armpit

Early Detection

Like any major disease, early detection is vital. BreastScreen Australia was established in 1991 to provide free biennial screening mammograms to women aged 50-74. Incidence rates of breast cancer increased after BreastScreen was introduced, however, there has been a reduction in breast cancer mortality in women 50 to 69 years of age of approximately 36.5 per cent due to earlier diagnosis. Visit BreastScreen website to make your appointment now.

Risk Factors

While the cause of breast cancer is not fully understood, it is known that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop this disease. There are different types of risk factors, some of which can be modified and some that cannot. These include:

• A family history of breast cancer

• Already being diagnosed with a previous breast condition

• Hormonal factors such as late menopause or using a combination of hormone replacement therapy

• Child-bearing history such as not having children or having them at a later age (breastfeeding has been associated with a modest decrease in risk of breast cancer)

• Personal and lifestyle factor including increasing age, taller height, excess weight and obesity (particularly in postmenopausal females), low physical activity and alcohol consumption

Healthy habits

While you can't do anything to change the risk factors such as being a woman, getting older or your family history, there are several other things you can do to reduce your risks and stay healthy.

o Have a mammogram every two years, it can save your life

o Maintain a health body weight

o Exercise regularly, something as simple as a brisk walk is enough to reduce the risk

o Eat a healthy diet with at least five serves of vegetable and two serves of fruit per day

o Reduce your alcohol intake to no more than 2 standard drinks a day

o Don't smoke, although there is no clear link between smoking a breast cancer, toxins have been found in breast cells and smoking is a major cause of other disease and cancers

PA CAMPUS Research

Ongoing breast cancer research at the PAH has led to some significant studies and clinical trials and current research project include:

• Testing the effectiveness of chemotherapy dose on different body sizes of women with breast cancer and the increase in mortality

• Studying the effect different drugs have on post-menopausal women with hormone sensitive breast cancer

• Studying the effect anastrozole versus placebo in post-menopausal women who have an increased risk breast cancer

• Understanding proteins to identify biomarkers and novel therapeutic targets

• Clinical trials into developing a better treatment for ER

Dr Fiona Simpson's groundbreaking research

Funds raised for Breast Cancer Research help support, in particular, Dr Fiona Simpson's research project which is looking at how to make current treatment resistant cancer cells, like Triple Negative Breast Cancer, respond to targeted therapy by combining a drug that has been in clinical use for over 30 years. In exciting news, the research project has received ethics permission to go into the clinical trial phase. Watch this space for further updates.

Donate to Breast Cancer Research


Cancer Council
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast Cancer Network Australia

Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guideline only. The sources used are believed to be reliable and in no way replace consultation with a Health Professional.