What is breast cancer?

The facts
  • According to 2019 estimates, 1 in 7 women in Australia will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Cancer Australia, 2019
  • More than half of all breast cancers in Australia are discovered by the woman herself or her own doctor
  • The early detection of breast cancer can increase the chance of successful treatment.
  • Nine out of 10 breast changes are not due to cancer, but you should see your doctor to be sure
  • Breast cancer is also diagnosed in men (although the chances of this occurring are much lower than for women)

For more breast cancer statistics:

What is breast cancer?
  • Cancer develops when the body’s cells behave in an uncontrolled way. Breast cancer develops in the ducts or lobules of the breast. It may present as a lump, but not always so there are other breast changes that should be investigated. Click here for more information from Cancer Australia.
How breast cancer develops
  • Breast cancer develops in either the ducts or the lobules. Lobules are where the milk is produced and ducts are where the milk travels to the nipple. Cancer cells develop when the cells lining the ducts or lobules become abnormal in size and shape and start multiplying in an uncontrolled way. Click here for more information from Cancer Australia.
What causes breast cancer?
  • It is not possible to say what exactly causes breast cancer. However, research has shown that some factors might increase a woman’s risk or chance of developing breast cancer. These factors are called risk factors.
Changes to look for:
  • A lump, lumpiness or thickening in the breast or armpit – especially if it is in one breast only
  • A change in the size or shape of your breast
  • Skin changes such as dimpling, puckering or redness
  • Nipple inversion or discharge
  • A change to the nipple, like a rash, ulcer or itchiness
  • An unusual or persistent pain

Most breast changes are not due to breast cancer, however you should see your doctor without delay if you notice any of the changes above, or if you feel concerned about your breast health.

What happens if there are breast changes?

Remember, most changes are not due to breast cancer, but you might need the following tests to confirm:

  • A clinical breast examination by your doctor
  • A mammogram and/or ultrasound
  • A fine needle biopsy or core biopsy
Frequently asked questions and myths about breast cancer

Click here for more information.