October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual breast health campaign inspired to raise awareness of breast cancer, with the aim to raise money for increased research on the causes of breast cancer, and to better prevent, treat, diagnose, and cure breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting Australian women, with more than 20,000 women diagnosed annually in Australia, and the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, following prostate cancer.

The 5-year survival rate for stage 1 breast cancer is 100%, but this impressive survival rate drops once the patient moves into stage 2 (94.6%), stage 3 (80.6%), and stage 4 (32%).

Explaining the stages of breast cancer

The stages of breast cancer refer to how much the cancer has grown, and how far it has spread.

Officially breast cancer starts at stage 0, a precancerous stage, with no invasive cells.

Stage 1 – The tumour is small and localised in the breast. Some cancer may affect the nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 2 – The tumour is growing, but still localised, and may have started to spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 3 – The cancer is now larger, with involved lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone. It may have also spread to the skin or chest wall.

Stage 4 – The cancer has metastasised, having spread further afield in the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, and the liver.

The stages of breast cancer are based on the size of the tumour, whether the lymph nodes contain cancer cells, and whether the cells have metastasised. Stages are also affected if the cancer cells have hormone receptors, needing oestrogen and progesterone to grow. Whether the cancer cells have the HER2 protein that helps them grow, and the grading of the tumour

What exactly is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the abnormal growth of cells lining the breast ducts and/or lobules. The growth of these cells become uncontrolled, and starts to affect the surrounding tissue.

Breast cancer is a term used for a variety of cancers that affect the breasts, including non-invasive, and invasive breast cancers.

How can we be more breast aware?

Early detection of breast cancer offers patients their best chance of survival, and in order to do that, we need a better understanding of individual risk to tailor screening with mammogram, ultrasound (and MRI for selected individuals).

It is important for women to know their bodies well. Look out for changes, and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have a lump in your breast?
  2. Have your breasts changed their shapes or size?
  3. Have you noticed changes to your nipple?
  4. Are you experiencing a discharge from your nipple?
  5. Have you noticed changes to the skin of the breast?
  6. Have you experienced pain in your breasts?

While changes to your breasts can be natural, and nothing to do with cancer, it is best to get a check-up anytime you notice anything different with your breasts.

What types of cancers are there?

Non-invasive breast cancers 

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
  • Phyllodes breast tumours (typically non-invasive, but can sometimes be invasive)

Invasive breast cancers 

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma
  • Locally advanced breast cancer
  • Metastatic breast cancer
  • Paget’s disease of the nipple
  • Inflammatory breast cancer

There are also various subtypes of breast cancer, including:

  • Hormone receptor positive breast cancer
  • HER2-positive breast cancer
  • Triple negative breast cancer

These subtypes influence the type of treatment that is used, and the prognosis.

Hunter Valley Oncology supports Breast Cancer Awareness month, and we recommend that all women over 45 regularly get their breasts checked for any early warning signs of breast cancer, with physical examination and mammogram/ultrasound. We also strongly recommend that men should see their GP if they suspect anything untoward on their nipples or breast area.