It has been reported that in 2019 alone, 19,535 new cases of breast cancer have been diagnosed. Primarily affecting women, although men aren’t exempt, breast cancer is the second-most common type of cancer in the country.
Given that prevention is possible, and that early diagnosis can increase life expectancy, access to information on breast cancer is important. In fact, the chance of surviving beyond 5 years is 91%.
This post dives into some basic information on this type of cancer.
What is breast cancer?
This type of cancer refers to the growth of abnormal cells in the breast. This affects the breast tissue in both men and women, which extend to the armpit in what is known as the axillary tail.
The types of breast cancer include:
Ductal carcinoma in situ and lobular carcinoma in situ:
These are non-invasive types of breast cancer, which are localised to the ducts or lobules in the breast. The former is the most common type of breast cancer.
Invasive ductal or lobular carcinoma:
This is an invasive type of cancer that starts in the ducts or lobules and has the potential to spread to the breast tissue. While it can be confined to the breast and the lymph nodes in the armpit, it may spread beyond this region.
Paget’s disease of the nipple:
This is a rare form of cancer affecting the nipple and the areola. It is generally associated with invasive cancer located somewhere else in the breast.
Inflammatory breast cancer:
Another rare form of invasive cancer, this affects the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast, making it red and inflamed.
Symptoms of breast cancer
For patients who display symptoms of this condition, the most common signs include:
- A lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast or the area under the arm
- Pain in the breast that doesn’t go away or pain in only one breast
- Changes in the skin of or around the breast – dimpling, puckering or redness
- An area of the breast that feels different
- Changes in the nipple – inversion, new nipple discharge, itchy or ulcerated skin
While certain changes to the breast may not necessarily be the result of breast cancer, patients must see a doctor right away. Awareness of these symptoms is highly important.
It is important to note that while it’s possible not to experience symptoms of breast cancer, it can be detected during mammography, which is a type of breast X-ray.
Leading a healthy lifestyle – one with frequent exercise – is important. Additionally, reducing the consumption of alcohol, quitting smoking, and consuming a diet full of vegetables, fruit and other fibrous and nutritious items may contribute to cancer prevention.
Even breastfeeding may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Being aware of breast changes
Performing regular self-exams are important and can help patients identify whether they’re developing certain symptoms. Learn how to check your breasts each month.
Signs to watch out for include:
Breast cancer screening
Given screening can identify breast cancer in its early stages, in Australia, women over the age of 40 are entitled to free mammograms every 2 years.
There are three primary procedures used to diagnose breast cancer. These include:
Here, patients are required to remove the top half of their clothing, after which each breast will be placed between two plates on the mammography machines.
The machine will press each breast firmly for around 10 seconds to take the picture. Two pictures are taken of each breast, one from the side and one from on top.
An ultrasound is another type of screening, it is believed that this may provide clearer results for individuals with dense breasts.
In this test, a sample of tissue is extracted from a patient’s breast for a closer examination under a microscope.
One of the first things breast cancer patients find out is that this condition is treated according to the stages they are in.
From stages I to III, primary treatment methods may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone and targeted therapies either before or after surgery.
When it comes to stage IV, one of the main treatments includes systematic drug therapy.
The primary types of surgery for breast cancer are:
Breast-conserving surgery: This is where part of the breast containing cancer is removed. The primary aim, here, is to remove cancer and some of the surrounding tissue.
Mastectomy: Here, the entire breast is removed, including all the breast tissue. There are different types of mastectomies.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: This is a procedure where only one or a few lymph nodes under that arm are removed. This is to help prevent the cancer from spreading to this region.
Axillary lymph node dissection: This is where most or all of the lymph nodes are removed from under the arm.
Chemotherapy is where anti-cancer drugs are administered intravenously. Drugs travel through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells.
Chemo may be administered both before or after surgery.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays, protons or other particles to kill cancer cells. Rapidly-growing cells may be particularly vulnerable to this type of treatment.
Radiation therapy for breast cancer can be administered either via external radiation – which is delivered from outside the body – or through internal radiation, where doctors, temporarily, place a radiation-delivery device in the breast.
How can a GP help?
If you believe that you may be displaying certain signs of breast cancer or require immediate screening, contact us today for medical support.
With your GP, it is possible to be directed to the appropriate service for either diagnosis or treatment. You can book an appointment by phoning 1800 698 600.