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What are the symptoms?

Some people have no symptoms and the cancer is found during a mammogram (a low-dose x-ray of the breast).

If you do have symptoms, they could include:

  • a lump, lumpiness or thickening in the breast or under the arm;
  • changes in the size or shape of the breast;
  • changes to the nipple including nipple discharge or a nipple that is turning in when it used to stick out;
  • changes to the skin of the breast such as dimpling or a rash or unusual redness; or
  • persistent, unusual pain that is not related to your normal monthly menstrual cycle, remains after your period and occurs in one breast only.

Most breast changes aren’t caused by cancer. However, if you have symptoms, see your doctor without delay.

Which health professionals will I see?

You may be recalled for further tests after a screening mammogram or your general practitioner (GP) will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist breast service for further tests.

If breast cancer is diagnosed, you will first see a breast surgeon, or in some cases a medical oncologist, who will consider your treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. During and after treatment, you will see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care. You may not need to see all members of the MDT.

GPassists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care
breast physiciandiagnoses breast cancer and coordinates treatment for breast cancer in some clinics
breast surgeonassesses breast changes; performs breast surgery and biopsies; some breast surgeons also perform breast reconstruction and plastic surgery procedures (known as an oncoplastic breast surgeon)
reconstructive (plastic) surgeonperforms breast reconstruction after mastectomy
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)
radiologistanalyses x-rays, mammograms, ultrasounds and other scans
radiographerperforms x-rays, mammograms and other scans
breast care nurseprovides breast cancer care; also provides information and referrals during and after treatment
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
anaesthetistadministers anaesthetic before surgery and monitors you during the operation
radiation therapistplans and delivers radiation therapy
pathologistexamines cells and tissue samples that are removed from the breast to work out the type and extent of the cancer
physiotherapist, occupational therapistassist with physical and practical problems, including restoring movement and mobility after treatment, and recommending aids and equipment
exercise physiologistprescribes exercise to help people with medical conditions improve their overall health, fitness, strength and energy levels
lymphoedema practitionereducates people about lymphoedema prevention and management, and provides treatment if lymphoedema occurs; often a physiotherapist
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical or financial issues
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow during treatment and recovery
psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellorhelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
genetic counsellorprovides advice for people with a strong family history of breast cancer or with a genetic condition linked to breast cancer

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed July 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Bruce Mann, Professor of Surgery, The University of Melbourne, and Director, Breast Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Marie Burke, Radiation Oncologist, and Medical Director GenesisCare Oncology, QLD; Dr Susan Fraser, Breast Physician, Cairns Hospital and Marlin Coast Surgery Cairns, QLD; Ruth Groom, Consumer; Julie McGirr, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; A/Prof Catriona McNeil, Medical Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Roya Merie, Staff Specialist, Radiation Oncology, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Eva Nagy, Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Sydney Oncoplastic Surgery, NSW; Gay Refeld, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Breast Care, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA; Genny Springham, Consumer.