Published on Dec 22, 2023
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team
Breast Cancer: A Quick Guide to Signs & Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
You may have already read about the risk factors for breast cancer.
But what are the possible signs to watch out for, how can breast cancer be detected at the earliest stage and how is it treated? Read on to find out more.
Some women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any signs or symptoms of the disease. However, there are sometimes changes in the breast that a woman may notice1. Any change should be brought to the attention of your GP. Changes to look out for include:1
Your GP will usually order one or more diagnostic tests if:
Finding breast cancer at an early stage means that a doctor can begin treatment earlier in the course of the disease. Screening mammograms are an important diagnostic tool for early detection and have been shown to help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women 40 to 74 years old2.
Breast Screen Australia and Breast Screen Aotearoa are national screening programs that offer free mammograms every 2 years for women aged between 50-74 years in Australia2 and between 45-69 years in New Zealand.3
Additionally, if your mother or sister has had breast cancer then it is important to talk to your doctor about the screening mammogram schedule that’s best for you.
If breast cancer is suspected, your GP will refer you to a cancer specialist, called an oncologist, who will perform one or more tests to make a diagnosis and/or to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The specific test that you will need depends on a number of factors, including:4
Imaging tests can be used which enable the oncologist to see the structure of a person’s breast, including:5
Imaging tests are useful for suggesting if cancer is present, but only a biopsy can provide a definite diagnosis. During a biopsy, small pieces of breast tissue are taken so that it can be examined under a microscope by a pathologist for the presence of cancer cells.4
If cancer is detected in your breast, you may have additional scans to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as:5
Your oncologist will take a number of factors into account when deciding on a treatment plan. These include:8
The most common treatments for breast cancer include:8
Talk to your GP or oncologist if you have any questions about breast cancer, screening, treatment, or steps you can take to reduce your risk. If you think you have any of the signs or symptoms of breast cancer, make an appointment to see your GP right away.
- BreastScreen Australia
- Breast Cancer Foundation NZ
- Cancer Council
- Calculate your risk of breast cancer with the iPrevent tool from Peter Mac
- Health Direct: Breast Cancer
- McGrath Foundation: Find a nearest McGrath breast care nurse (Australia)