An estimated 20,600 Australians were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022.

Their average age at diagnosis was 62.

It is the second biggest cancer killer of women behind lung cancer.

It is also the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia with an estimated one in eight women and one in 668 men to be diagnosed with it by age 85.

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast grow abnormally to form a lump or tumour.

If left untreated, the cells may spread to other parts of the body including bones or vital organs such as the liver or lungs.

Remember, breast cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Taking early action is critical to beating or living with breast cancer.

Nine in 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer survive at least five years with many living much longer.

Risk factors for breast cancer

As with other cancers, there are a number of risk factors, some which are lifestyle related.

Drinking – Alcohol intake may raise oestrogen levels and a rise in the risk of breast cancer by 30-50%.

Smoking – The longer you smoke, the greater your risk.

Weight – Obesity is associated with an increased risk of between 20-40% in post-menopausal women.

Age – The risk increases with age with nearly 80% of breast cancers diagnosed in women over 50.

Family history – Genetics play a big role. Women with a first-degree relative who has had breast cancer are twice as likely to develop it themselves.

Gene mutations – Almost 10% of breast cancers appear in women with a family history of BRCA1, BRCA2 or other gene mutations.

Dense breasts – Women with dense breast tissue may have a higher breast cancer risk.

Prior radiation exposure – Women exposed to radiation therapy in the chest region may be up to five times more likely to develop breast cancer.

Breast cancer symptoms

Some people experience no symptoms and breast cancer is only discovered by way of a routine mammogram or a physical exam conducted by a doctor.

Women between the ages of 50 and 74 will be invited to have a mammogram every two years.

Symptoms to be on the look out for include:

  • any new lumps or thickening in the breast, especially if it is only in one breast
  • changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • nipple sores or changes in shape of the nipple
  • discharge from the nipple
  • inverted or retracted nipples, especially if only in one breast and if they do not come out when stimulated
  • dimpling in the skin of the breast (similar to the look of an orange peel)
  • discomfort or swelling in the armpit
  • ongoing discomfort that is not related to your menstrual cycle that persists after your period and is only in one breast
  • a rash or red, swollen breasts

Symptoms for breast cancer in men are similar to that as in women.

Diagnosing breast cancer 

When testing for breast cancer, a doctor will typically order a ‘triple test’ which will include:

  • a clinical breast examination along with your medical history
  • A diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound test
  • A biopsy of the lump which will involve examining a sample of tissue 

Treating breast cancer

Depending on the test results and the development of any cancer, there are several treatment options available.

Surgery – may involve a lumpectomy (removing the lump from the breast) or a mastectomy (removing the entire breast), potentially along with lymph nodes under the arm.

Radiotherapy – usually employed to kill off any remaining cancer cells after a lumpectomy, mastectomy or lymph node removal.

Chemotherapy – anti-cancer drugs which may be employed before or after surgery or radiotherapy or in tandem with radiotherapy.

Hormone therapy – drugs that help reduce oestrogen and progesterone levels to slow the growth of hormone receptor positive cancer cells.

Targeted therapy – drugs that attack specific targets inside cancer cells that help them multiply. This is only useful for women diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer.

Palliative care – Designed to relieve cancer symptoms and improve quality of life.

Book an appointment

As with all cancers, early detection and treatment is paramount in producing positive outcomes. 

It is so important to consult with your GP at the first sign of any abnormality in the breast.

This will give your doctor the chance to either rule out cancer or begin a course of treatment to give you the very best chance of long-term survival.

Self-examination and regular mammograms, particularly for women over 50, are an extremely important part of this process.

Talk to your doctor about self-examination if you are unsure or not confident about how to do this. 

Having a close relationship with a trusted doctor goes a long way towards improving your outcomes in whatever health challenges you may face.

AHA Clinics encourage early intervention and promote ongoing health maintenance to prevent illnesses and disease before they become serious.

Book an appointment today at the Seaford Road Day and Night Clinic or the Seaford Meadows Day and Night Clinic.