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San Cancer Services

Breast cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a complex disease with multiple subtypes which originates in breast tissue cells and is characterised by the uncontrolled growth and division of abnormal cells within the tissue. A notable characteristic of breast cancer compared to other cancers is the influence of hormones, with estrogen and progesterone receptors commonly involved in the growth of breast cancer cells.

When undergoing breast cancer screening risk factors include:

  • family history/inherited gene mutations
  • hormone imbalances such as early onset of menstruation or late menopause
  • lifestyle factors including weight, lack of exercise and excess alcohol consumption
  • age (women over 50)
  • gender (women are at higher risk than men)

With extensive diagnostic services available and a team of breast cancer oncology specialists onsite, the San's hospital on Sydney's North Shore provides comprehensive breast cancer services to assist from early stages of diagnosis through to treatment and recovery.

Diagnosing breast cancer

As with many types of cancer, early detection of breast cancer is vital for improving patient outcomes. Potential abnormalities are often first detected by self-examinations or by a general practitioner during a clinical examination.

Common symptoms of potential breast cancer are the presence of a lump, either in the breast or underarm area, or changes in breast shape or size. Some may also notice breast tenderness, have unexplained pain or discharge from nipples. Self-examinations should also look for changes in the skin's surface of the breast, such as redness or dimpling. If a self or doctor’s examination identifies a suspected issue, further tests are undertaken.

A mammogram is routinely used to provide an x-ray image of the breast to identify potential abnormalities. Ultrasound imaging is also an option to investigate suspected areas, or where more detailed images are required, an MRI may be utilised. In some cases a biopsy will be undertaken to remove a sample of tissue for laboratory analysis.

Utilised individually or in combination, access to a range of breast cancer screening and diagnostic methods allows abnormalities to be accurately characterised in advance of tailored treatment plans being prepared. From our private hospital on Sydney's North Shore, the San's Radiology & Nuclear Medicine and Pathology services enable our breast cancer specialists to undertake the required tests quickly and efficiently to confirm a diagnosis before commencing breast cancer treatments.

Treating breast cancer

Treatment options for breast cancer vary depending on the sub-type, stage and whether there has been spread to other parts of the body. Options include:

  • Hormone therapy: some types of breast cancer are sensitive to hormones so hormone therapy is used to inhibit the effects of hormones.
  • Surgery: impacted areas are surgically removed; may be a lumpectomy (tumour removal) or mastectomy (removing entire breast).
  • Chemotherapy: before or after surgery, specialised drugs are used to slow or stop cancer cell growth.
  • Radiotherapy: targeted radiation therapy is used at specific locations to destroy cancer cells; may be before surgery to shrink tumours or afterwards to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: cancer growth is able to be inhibited using targeted drugs, often in combination with other therapies.

While a combination of breast cancer treatments may be adopted, each case will take into account the size, type and location of the impacted areas prior to determining appropriate treatment. With advanced radiology, theatre and day surgery units, the San’s private hospital is well placed to assemble the required multi-disciplinary team to perform the necessary procedures.

Comprehensive breast cancer treatment services

Accessing our extensive breast cancer screening and diagnosis tools allows our breast cancer oncology specialists to ensure each patient’s treatment plan is expertly tailored to their specific needs. From our Sydney hospital, highly qualified breast cancer specialists bring a depth of knowledge and experience to inform a comprehensive approach. As no two cases of breast cancer are alike, we draw together the appropriate specialists to best address the proposed personalised treatment plan depending on what type of radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery is being considered. The expert team may include breast surgeons, breast cancer oncologists and radiologists, who each contribute their experience and expertise to ensure the most effective intervention and treatment. It may also include plastic surgeons who can provide a full range of breast reconstruction services if required.


The San's dedicated breast cancer diagnosis and treatment services at our Sydney private hospital are distinguished by the offering of truly patient-centric services. We provide care from the early stages of through to comprehensive treatment and follow up support across the breast cancer patient's journey.

The San advantage

  • Caring and professional support
  • Individualised treatment plans
  • Comprehensive screening and diagnostic services
  • Leading-edge facilities and technology
  • Post-surgery follow up services.