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What are the symptoms?

Not everyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer has symptoms. Breast changes may not mean cancer, but see a doctor if you have:

  • a lump, lumpiness or thickening, especially in just one breast
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast or swelling
  • a change to the nipple – change in shape, crusting, sores or ulcers, redness, pain, a clear or bloody discharge, or a nipple that turns in (inverted) when it used to stick out
  • a change in the skin – dimpling or indentation, a rash or itchiness, a scaly appearance, unusual redness or other colour changes
  • swelling or discomfort in the armpit or near the collarbone
  • ongoing, unusual pain not related to your monthly menstrual cycle, that remains after your period and is in one breast only.

Which health professionals will I see?

You may be sent for tests after a screening mammogram, or your general practitioner (GP) may arrange tests to check your symptoms. If these tests don’t rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist or breast clinic. If breast cancer is diagnosed, you’ll see a breast surgeon or a medical oncologist, who will talk to you about your treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other health professionals at 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 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 surgeonperforms breast surgery and biopsies; some breast surgeons also perform breast reconstruction; oncoplastic breast surgeons specialise in using plastic surgery techniques to reconstruct breast tissue after surgery
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
anaesthetistassesses your health before the operation, administers anaesthetic and looks after you during and after surgery, and plans your pain relief
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; is often a physiotherapist
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
dietitianhelps with nutrition concerns and recommends changes to diet 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 for people with a genetic condition linked to cancer

Featured resources

Breast Cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Breast Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed July 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and The University of Sydney, NSW; Collette Butler, Clinical Nurse Consultant and McGrath Breast Care Nurse, Cancer Support Centre, Launceston, TAS; Tania Cercone, Consumer; Kate Cox, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Marcus Dreosti, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare, SA; Dr Susan Fraser, Breast Physician, Cairns Hospital and Marlin Coast Surgery Cairns, QLD; Dr Hilda High, Genetic Oncologist, Sydney Cancer Genetics, NSW; Prof David W Kissane AC, Chair of Palliative Medicine Research, The University of Notre Dame Australia, and St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, NSW; Prof Sherene Loi, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr W Kevin Patterson, Medical Oncologist, Adelaide Oncology and Haematology, SA; Angela Thomas, Consumer; Iwa Yeung, Physiotherapist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.