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Understanding breast cancer

20 March, 2020

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer happens when cells in the breast tissue grow abnormally. These cancerous cells usually form a tumour which can be felt as a lump or seen in a screening. Breast cancer is more common in women, but it also affects some men. For a woman, the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer by the 85th birthday is one in eight.

Symptoms of breast cancer

Some of the symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • lumps in the breast
  • changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • crusting or redness in the nipple
  • nipple discharge
  • unusual or persistent pain

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked out.

How can you reduce your risk?

There are several lifestyle changes you can make that could reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight
  2. Be physically active on most, preferably all days of the week
  3. Choose a varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
  4. Limit your alcohol intake
  5. Quit smoking

Checking your own breasts

It’s important to be familiar with your own breasts so you know what’s normal for you and be able to identify any changes. If you do find a lump in your breasts, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer, but you shouldn’t delay getting it checked.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, if you’re a woman under 40, breast awareness remains the most effective method for early detection of breast cancer.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia (NBCF) recommends checking your breasts once a month. If you’ve never checked your breasts before, or you’re not sure if you’re doing it right, read their guide to checking for breast cancer symptoms.

Who should have a regular mammogram screening?

Breast cancer screenings help to detect cancer early. If breast cancer is found early, there’s a better chance of survival. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that if breast cancer was found in screening, women had a 42% lower risk of dying compared to women with breast cancer who had never been screened. 

All women over 40 have access to a free mammogram through BreastScreen Australia.

All women aged 50 to 74 should have a mammogram screening every two years as this is the most common age to develop breast cancer.

Women aged between 40 and 49 who have no symptoms can choose to have a free mammogram and women over 75 years should discuss the screening with their doctor.

You call BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50 for more information or to book an appointment.

Where to get support

If you want more information about breast cancer, it’s best to talk to your doctor or call the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.

If you have a diagnosis of breast cancer and have been experiencing a low mood for some time, you might want to consider professional mental health support. Your doctor can assess you and refer you to a mental health professional if needed.

If you need help now, there are several phonelines and websites available:


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.

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