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Clinical Specialties - Cancer

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer MDT

A breast cancer diagnosis can be daunting. Learning as much as you can about the disease can help you feel better prepared and can make it easier to speak to your doctor and feel confident asking questions about your condition, treatment options and care.

Research and technology advances and over the past two decades have also changed the landscape of breast cancer care. Genetic testing, targeted treatments and more precise surgical techniques have helped boost survival rates in some cases while also helping to support breast cancer patients’ quality of life.

At Sydney Adventist Hospital, our breast cancer experts have the training and expertise to quickly diagnose your disease, explain the range of treatment options available and help you decide on a plan tailored to meet your needs and goals. Our oncologists have experience with early-stage as well as complex diseases, have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including breast-conserving surgery, immunotherapy and new options that may be available through clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life. Explore this section to learn more about breast cancer, its side effects and your treatment options.

If you are undergoing breast surgery, you may like to read our Breast Surgery Booklet which comprehensively outlines everything you need to know.

About Breast Cancer

According to the Cancer Council of Australia, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia and the second most common cancer to cause death in women, after lung cancer. Whilst breast cancer occurs mainly in women, males can get breast cancer as well, although it is unlikely. Click here to learn more about male breast cancer.

In Australia, the overall five year survival rate for breast cancer in females is 90% and even higher if the cancer is limited to the breast. In 2014, 16,614 women and 140 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia*. (*Cancer Council statistics)

If you want to know more about breast cancer, you can refer to the resources and useful links section or visit our newsroom for interviews and videos.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

Many breast cancers are discovered through routine breast screening exams such as mammograms, even when a woman has no other signs of disease. However, on your own, you may notice symptoms that could be suspicious. See your doctor right away if you have any of these conditions:

  • A lump or thickness in or near the breast or under the arm
  • Unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast, particularly on one side only
  • Dimpling or puckering of the breast
  • Nipple discharge (fluid) other than breast milk that occurs without squeezing the nipple
  • Breast skin changes, such as redness, flaking, thickening, or pitting that looks like the skin of an orange
  • A nipple that becomes sunken (inverted), red, thick, or scaly
Who is at risk of getting breast cancer?

Your risk for breast cancer rises as you get older. About 80 percent of breast cancers are found in women over age 50* — many of whom have no other known risk factors for the disease.

Breast cancer can affect men as well as women but it is about 100 times less common. It also tends to occur later in life, around the ages of 65 to 70. For more information on male breast cancer, click here.

Although you’re two to three times more likely to get breast cancer if you have a strong family history of the disease, only 5 to 10 percent* of breast cancers are inherited, meaning that they are linked to gene mutations passed down in families. Several other risk factors may slightly boost your chances of getting breast cancer. (*According to Cancer Council of Australia statistics)

Based on your family history and whether you may be at higher risk of developing breast cancer, you may need to have more regular diagnostic tests for your own peace of mind.

Male breast cancer

Both men and women have breast tissue and therefore men can also be affected breast cancer. A mans chance of surviving breast cancer is similar to that of a woman diagnosed at the same stage of disease.

Male breast cancer is more likely to be cured if it is discovered early. But because many men do not realise that they can develop the disease, they don’t seek medical attention when they first discover a mass or lump in their chest. Therefore, breast cancer is generally diagnosed at later stages in men than in women.

According to Cancer Council of Australia statistics, in 2014 (the most recent incidence data) 140 Australian men were diagnosed with breast cancer. For further information on male breast cancer, visit the Cancer Council site or click here.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

If a clinical breast exam, a mammogram, or another imaging test shows a suspicious change in your breast, the next step is usually a breast biopsy. A biopsy is the only test that can make a definite diagnosis of breast cancer. It involves taking a sample of your breast tissue, which is checked under a microscope for cancer cells by a pathologist (a doctor who is specially trained to diagnose disease).

What are the stages of breast cancer?

Following a range of diagnostic tests and a physical exam, your breast cancer will be described as being at a certain stage at the time of diagnosis. Knowing the stage helps determine the way in which your breast cancer will be treated. Breast cancer is typically staged with Roman numerals ranging from 0 (the earliest stage) to IV (the most advanced stage). Cancer stages are based on:

  • How invasive or noninvasive the cancer is
  • What size the tumour is
  • Whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to the lymph nodes, and if so, to how many of them
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver
What are my treatment options?

If you have breast cancer, your doctors will discuss your treatment options with you. To make an informed choice, ask about the pros and cons of each option, potential side effects, and how effective the treatment is likely to be. There are several ways to treat breast cancer, depending on the type and stage, including:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer, such as lumpectomy (removal of the tumour and a small rim of tissue around it) or mastectomy (removal of the entire breast)
  • Radiation therapy, using high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to destroy cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy with drugs that kill breast cancer
  • Hormone therapy medications that block oestrogen and other hormones that fuel the growth of some breast cancers
  • Targeted therapy drugs that specifically target certain molecules involved in breast cancer development, growth, and spread while sparing normal cells


Modern breast cancer treatment usually involves a combination of these approaches.

Resources and Useful Breast Cancer Links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services