Breast cancer (invasive)
Invasive breast cancer is when the cancerous cells have spread into surrounding breast tissue. There are several types of invasive breast cancers, some of the most common are listed below. If you would like to learn more about the types of breast cancers, including rare breast cancers, please visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer that begins in the ducts and grows into the nearby breast tissue.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma
Invasive lobular carcinoma is the second most common type of breast cancer that begins in the milk glands and spreads to the nearby breast tissue.
- Inflammatory breast cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer is rare yet aggressive form of breast cancer. It can occur quickly and the breast typically looks red and swollen. The skin can look dimpled or pitted like an orange peel. It may feel warm and tender to touch or a rash may develop.
- Paget's disease of the nipple
Paget's disease of the nipple is another form of rare breast cancer. Paget's disease affects the nipple and the area around the nipple causing it to become hard, red, itchy, lumpy or bleed. The nipple may also flatten out or become inverted or be associated with a lump in the same breast
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, we understand it can be incredibly overwhelming. Please check out our support and resources or visit Cancer Australia, BCNA or National Breast Cancer Foundation to find out more.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
Breast cancer (non-invasive)
Some breast cancers are known as 'non-invasive'. This means we have caught your condition early through mammograms, ultrasound or biopsy and it has not currently spread beyond the ducts or lobes. If non-invasive cancer does spread, it is referred to as invasive cancer.
- Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ condition - abnormal changes in the milk ducts of the breast.
- Lobular Carcinoma In-Situ condition - abnormal changes in the milk glands (lobules) of the breasts.
We understand that it can be incredibly overwhelming if you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Please check out our support and resources or visit Cancer Australia or National Breast Cancer Foundation to find out more.
If you have a family history of breast cancer or worried about a change you’ve found, don’t wait for answers. Book an appointment at the Breast Clinic at Epworth Freemasons and get same day answers. Though breast cancer is a common form of cancer, most people do survive the disease through early detection and procedures.
Signs and symptoms
Have you noticed a change in the look or feel of your breasts?
It's natural and common for changes to occur to your breasts and nine of 10 changes aren't due to cancer. However, we encourage you to consult your GP for peace of mind. If you have noticed an abnormal change in your breast, please book a breast check appointment.
Symptoms and signs
What does breast cancer look like?
Signs of breast cancer could include the following:
- Lump or lumpiness in the breast area
- Changes to the nipple
- Nipple discharge (blood or clear)
- Unusual and persistent redness of the skin (including new rashes or other colour changes)
What does breast cancer feel like?
Signs of breast cancer could include:
- Pain or tenderness in the armpit
- Pain or tenderness in the breast
Knowing how your breasts typically look and feel will help you to notice any abnormal changes. As you get older, the risk of breast cancer increases. Women aged 50-74 are encouraged to have a mammogram every two years. Women between the ages of 40-49 or over 74 are eligible for screening but will not receive a reminder through the government screening program. This recommendation includes transgender and gender diverse people.
Breast awareness is not so much about checking your breasts, but being aware of what your breasts look like and then as you grow into a woman it’s more about making sure that you’re checking them in the mirror, looking at yourself and taking note of any changes that might happen.
Diagnosing breast cancer
What is a breast screening?
A breast screening, breast check or breast investigation are terms used for a set of tests, such as a mammogram, that help doctors detect breast cancer before a person has symptoms.
What does a mammogram feel like?
Sarah is an Epworth breast care nurse and describes what a mammogram typically feels like:
"A typical mammogram can be uncomfortable, but it’s not painful. It’s done through radiology and it’s a machine where you put your breasts into the machine and the machine squashes it down so it gets a lovely picture of the breast top to bottom and side to side. Those images are then reviewed by the radiologist and then if there’s any concerns a GP will refer you on to a breast surgeon to review anything that may be, hopefully, benign. So it’s uncomfortable, but at the same time I think it depends on the size of your breasts."
"At Epworth we have this beautiful machine which combines time synthesis and mammogram and so it not only increases the sensitivity of the investigation but it also reduces the amount of compression required, and really that’s what ladies find most uncomfortable."
When should I have my breasts checked?
Under 40 years of age
If you are under 40 years of age and concerned by signs and symptoms such as physical changes in your breasts, reach out to you GP. This is because detecting breast cancer via mammography screening is not as effective for those less than 40 years of age.
40 years old and above
If you are aged 40 or older you can access a free mammogram every two years. No GP referral is required if you would like to visit the Breast Clinic at Epworth Freemasons and get same day answers. If you would like to visit one of our other sites for a free breast screening, please click the location below for more information.
If your Epworth doctor cannot rule out a tumour following preliminary tests such as a mammogram or physical exam, one or a combination of the following diagnostic tests will be performed.
Medical imaging such as an ultrasound or a mammogram will provide detailed images of your breast tissue.
If your scans show any abnormalities a surgical biopsy will be organised to formally diagnose the presenting condition. A small amount of breast tissue will be removed during the biopsy to be inspected under a microscope.
What does my cancer stage mean?
Staging is a term used to describe the size of the cancer and whether it has spread. Staging helps your care team and specialists to create a unique treatment plan.
The cancerous tumour is relatively small and the cancer has not yet spread to other tissue.
The cancerous tumour remains relatively localised but has spread to nearby tissue beyond its origin.
Cancer has spread regionally and affected surrounding tissue, and may have grown.
Sometimes called advanced cancer, stage 4 means cancer has spread to other tissue or organs beyond the region where it originated.
Breast cancer treatment
Everyone's breast cancer treatment journey is unique. Speak with your Epworth specialist team to understand the best approach to have your breast cancer treated.
Treatment for breast cancer at Epworth
Our specialist breast surgeons, doctors and specialists provide comprehensive support and service for the investigation and management of all benign and malignant breast conditions.
Chemotherapy is a common form of treatment that involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to attack cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used alongside other treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery.
One side effect which can impact most people during chemotherapy is hair loss. We encourage patients to speak with our dedicated volunteers at the Wig Salon for a free consultation. Scalp cooling may help to reduce hair loss and is offered in our day oncology units.
Radiotherapy is the use of radiation to treat and manage cancer. Supported by the latest world-class technology and evidence-based techniques, a highly experienced team of radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, physicists and nurses are committed to providing compassionate, exceptional care for patients and their loved ones.
Breast cancer surgery
There are several types of breast cancer surgeries. Your oncologist will discuss with you the right treatment for your cancer care.
There are two common types of breast cancer surgery:
- Breast conserving surgery
Breast cancer conserving surgery includes surgeries such as a partial mastectomy, wide local incision, or lumpectomy.
A mastectomy includes the removal of a whole breast or both breasts (double mastectomy).
Endocrine therapy, also known as hormone therapy, uses drugs to limit the level of female hormones in the body. Your doctor may recommend endocrine therapy depending on your age (if you have reached menopause) and type of breast cancer.
Targeted therapy only works for HER2 positive breast cancer patients and involves drugs that target cancer cells.
Breast reconstruction surgery
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, one of your treatments may include a mastectomy. The choice to undergo breast reconstruction surgery can be a physically and emotionally rewarding part of your cancer care journey. If you do choose to undergo breast reconstruction, we encourage you to speak with your surgeon who can refer you to a plastic surgeon.
Why choose Epworth for my care?
The Enhance breast cancer rehabilitation program at Epworth aims to support you through the physical, functional and emotional needs that may arise as a result of your cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Learn more about breast cancer rehabilitation
Chemotherapy for breast cancer
Our specialists are here to support you throughout your treatment journey and to help you understand your treatments.
What is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a common form of treatment that involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to attack cancer cells. Chemotherapy is can be used alongside other treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery.
How will I receive my treatment?
The treatment can be given orally, through a needle and typically provided as another form of treatment after breast surgery. Chemotherapy is often given in courses or cycles with periods of rest in between, allowing normal cells to recover.
Will I need chemotherapy?
Depending on the category or stage of your breast cancer, your Epworth oncologist will discuss with you if chemotherapy is suitable for your treatment needs.
Why choose Epworth for cancer care?
Epworth HealthCare is Victoria's largest not-for-profit private hospital group. renowned for excellence in diagnosis, treatment, care and rehabilitation. Epworth is an innovator in Australia’s health system, embracing the latest in evidence-based medicine to pioneer treatments and services for our patients.
Supported by excellent facilities, we integrate clinical practice with education and research to deliver outstanding patient care, each and every day.
Our team is here to support you throughout your breast cancer journey and will help you manage these potential and often temporary side effects. Our scalp cooling may help to reduce hair loss and is offered in our day oncology units.
Radiotherapy for breast cancer
Epworth oncologists use radiation to cure, control and reduce cancer cells to provide our patients with the best health outcomes.
What is radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy is the use of radiation (similar to x-rays) to destroy or manage cancer. Radiotherapy is often used alongside other treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery.
Radiotherapy at the Epworth
Epworth offers breast cancer patients radiotherapy through our provider, Icon. As Australia’s largest dedicated cancer care provider, Icon has a long history of delivering exceptional cancer care for the Australian community.
Supported by the latest world-class technology and evidence-based techniques, Icon’s highly experienced team of radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, physicists and nurses are committed to providing compassionate, exceptional care for patients and their loved ones.
Will I need radiotherapy?
Depending on your type of breast cancer or benign tumour, your treatment plan may recommend radiotherapy.
What are the side effects of radiotherapy for breast cancer?
Radiotherapy itself is painless and side effect types and duration will vary from person to person, some general side effects may include:
- Swelling of the breast
- Skin irritation
- Armpit discomfort
How frequently will I need radiotherapy? And how long does each session take?
Depending on your individual needs, you may require radiotherapy sessions several times a week but each session only takes 10-15 minutes.
Breast reconstruction surgery
Epworth oncologists use radiation to cure, control and reduce cancer cells to provide our patients with the best health outcomes.
The choice to undergo breast reconstruction surgery can be a physically and emotionally rewarding part of your cancer care journey. If you do choose to undergo breast reconstruction, we encourage you to speak with you surgeon who can refer you to a plastic surgeon.
What is breast cancer reconstruction surgery?
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, one of your treatments may include a mastectomy. Epworth offers on site specialist breast plastic surgical service for immediate or delayed breast reconstruction following a mastectomy.
Is breast reconstruction surgery right for me?
Breast reconstruction surgery can be a physically and emotionally rewarding part of your cancer care journey. We encourage you to speak with your doctor and surgeon, each breast reconstruction surgery is highly individualised. Depending on what stage of your cancer care journey you are in, you may be advised to delay reconstruction surgery to focus on your general health or other treatment plans.
Breast cancer rehabilitation
Life can throw us many challenges. When in the midst of it all, it can be difficult to believe you’ll ever triumph.
Rehabilitation provides the expertise and reassurance you need to come out the other side with strength and confidence to live up to your true potential.
Our Enhance breast cancer rehabilitation program aims to support you through the physical, functional and emotional needs that may arise as a result of cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment.
The program can help you to physically and emotionally prepare for or recover from treatment or surgery. It can also restore your strength and support your wellbeing at any time throughout.
Who is the breast cancer rehabilitation program for?
The Enhance breast cancer rehabilitation program, is a program that has been developed specifically for anyone diagnosed with breast cancer at any time from diagnosis to surgery, treatment and recovery.
This program runs as a group for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Anyone diagnosed with breast cancer can participate in the program individually.
Your family will also have an opportunity to participate in some educational components of the program.
Rehabilitation doesn't start after your treatment has ended. You may benefit from our holistic rehabilitation programs at any time throughout your cancer journey. Our programs can support you to physically and emotionally prepare for treatment and restore your strength and wellbeing.
What does the cancer rehabilitation program involve?
Before you start
You will meet a rehabilitation doctor and allied health team for a medical, psychosocial, and physical assessment.
Everyone's cancer care journey is different. The assessments will help the team understand your specific needs to develop the right program for you. You will work with the team to develop goals to work towards throughout the program.
During the program
Depending on your assessment and individual needs, you may complete your program:
- as part of a group, with other people, who have been diagnosed with varying cancers
- on your own
Most people will attend as an outpatient, coming to hospital for a few hours once or twice a week, over several weeks. Some people may need to stay overnight in hospital and complete a program over several consecutive days.
Either way, you will receive the same support from our team to address your physical, functional and emotional needs.
Your program may include:
- A physical exercise component to help restore movement, strength and fitness
- An educational component where you will learn about different areas associated with your cancer diagnosis and treatment and how to manage them, including:
- emotional wellbeing
- body image and self-esteem
- work or family challenges
- late-onset of side effects.
At the end of your program
Our rehabilitation team will keep in touch with your referring doctor and/or treating team throughout the program and our team will keep them informed about your progress.
They will also connect you to local services and support networks so you can leave our program with the strength and confidence to live life to your fullest potential.
Who will support me during the rehabilitation program?
Depending on your needs, you may see some or all of our multidisciplinary team which includes:
- Rehabilitation specialist doctor
- Cancer nurse
- Exercise physiologist
- Social worker
- Occupational therapist
How can I access a rehabilitation program?
A referral from your specialist or GP is required to participate.
If you have any questions about our cancer rehabilitation programs, call us on: 1300 345 600.
Epworth wig salon
Anyone undergoing cancer treatment with Epworth is encouraged to visit our free wig salon.
For many who are treated for cancer, losing your hair can feel like losing a part of your identity. Our supportive volunteers at the wig salon are here to help restore confidence and a sense of self.
The Wig Salon provides wigs for patients who have lost their hair after cancer treatments. A professional hairdresser helps to fit patients with a quality wig, and shows them how to apply scarves and other headwear.
Epworth has been a proud partner with the ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ organisation for more than 25 years. Designed to support patients to manage changes in their appearance, caused by treatment, the program is managed by a small team of team of staff and relies on the support of 1,000 trained cosmetic, beauty and hairdressing professionals who volunteer their time.
Looking in the mirror and seeing you are bald can be so confronting, particularly for women, and a reminder of just how sick you are. Many are overwhelmed when they learn that the wigs are free. It’s rewarding to watch them walk out looking like they can conquer the world.
Life after treatment
Life after breast cancer treatment can pose its own challenges but our Epworth specialists are here to support you.
Life after breast cancer treatment can be a mixture of emotions. You may not 'bounce back' as quickly as you like, but be kind to yourself and start making plans with your family or carers.
- You may still feel fatigued for a while after finishing treatment.
- If required, make an advanced care plan.
- Ask for help. If your body has changed due to treatment, remember help is out there to support you to feel your best and regain your sense of identity and self-esteem. Speak with your care team about options to support your general wellbeing after treatment.