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Cancer Information

After a diagnosis of breast cancer

After finding out you have breast cancer, you may feel shocked, upset, anxious or confused. These are normal responses. Talk about your treatment options with your doctor, family and friends. Seek as much information as you need. It is up to you how involved you want to be in decisions about your treatment.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women (after non-melanoma skin cancer), with 17,354 women diagnosed in 2016. Although rare, breast cancer can also affect men. Early breast cancer can be treated successfully and for most women breast cancer will not come back after treatment.

To ensure that you receive the best care, your specialist will arrange for a team of health professionals (sometimes referred to as a multidisciplinary team) based on your needs and preferences 

Learn more about the best breast cancer care for each step of your treatment:

How is breast cancer treated?

The type of treatment you are offered will depend on your situation and the type of breast cancer you have, how far it has spread, your general health and personal preferences. Although nearly all treatments have side-effects, most can be effectively managed. Ask your doctor what side effects to expect and how best to manage them.

Breast conserving surgery removes the breast cancer and a small area of healthy tissue around it. This procedure can also be called a lumpectomy, wide local excision or complete local excision. Breast conserving surgery plus radiation therapy is recommended for women diagnosed with early breast cancer. A mastectomy is the surgical removal of the whole breast affected by cancer. It is generally recommended if the cancer is large compared to the breast. If you are considering breast reconstruction discuss this with your doctor before your surgery.

In most cases breast surgery also involves the removal of one or more lymph nodes in the armpit, to test whether the breast cancer cells have spread.

Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) uses x-rays to destroy cancer cells that may be left in your breast or breast tissue after surgery. It is generally given over three to six weeks. Radiation therapy can also be used to reduce the size of the cancer and to relieve pain or other symptoms. it is not usually recommended after a mastectomy.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to help destroy cancer cells that may have spread to other areas of your body but cannot be detected. It may be used in addition to surgery and radiation therapy. Some chemotherapy drugs come in tablet form, others are injected through a vein in the arm or hand to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back.

Hormone treatment may be used if there are hormone receptors on your cancer cells. Hormonal therapy aims to slow or stop the growth of hormone receptor cells. It may be used in addition to
and surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

What about my physical and emotional wellness?

Eating a healthy diet including a variety of foods will ensure you have what your body needs to cope with treatment and recovery. Regular physical activity can improve your recovery and reduce side effects such as fatigue.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for professional and emotional support.
  • Consider joining a cancer support group.
  • Learn to ignore unwanted advice and "horror stories".
  • Live day-to-day and remember that every day is likely to be different.

Complementary therapies can work alongside medical treatments and some have been shown to improve quality of life or reduce pain. There is no evidence that these therapies can cure or prevent cancer. Some have not been tested for side effects, may work against other medical treatments and may be expensive. Talk with your doctor about using complementary therapies. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.

Other useful websites

Cancer Australia

Breast Cancer Network Australia

1800 500 258


Cancer Council acknowledges the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre's contribution to this fact sheet.

Find out more information about breast cancer