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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.
|GP||assists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care|
|breast physician||diagnoses breast cancer and coordinates treatment for breast cancer in some clinics|
|breast surgeon||performs 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) surgeon||performs breast reconstruction after mastectomy|
|radiation oncologist||treats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy|
|medical oncologist||treats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)|
|radiologist||analyses x-rays, mammograms, ultrasounds and other scans|
|radiographer||performs x-rays, mammograms and other scans|
|breast care nurse||provides breast cancer care; also provides information and referrals during and after treatment|
|nurse||administers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment|
|anaesthetist||assesses your health before the operation, administers anaesthetic and looks after you during and after surgery, and plans your pain relief|
|radiation therapist||plans and delivers radiation therapy|
|pathologist||examines cells and tissue samples that are removed from the breast to work out the type and extent of the cancer|
|physiotherapist, occupational therapist||assist with physical and practical problems, including restoring movement and mobility after treatment, and recommending aids and equipment|
|exercise physiologist||prescribes exercise to help people with medical conditions improve their overall health, fitness, strength and energy levels|
|lymphoedema practitioner||educates people about lymphoedema prevention and management, and provides treatment if lymphoedema occurs; is often a physiotherapist|
|social worker||links you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues|
|dietitian||helps with nutrition concerns and recommends changes to diet during treatment and recovery|
|psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellor||help you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment|
|genetic counsellor||provides advice for people with a strong family history of breast cancer or for people with a genetic condition linked to cancer|
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.