Health conditions

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in WA. Every year more than 1,450 women in Western Australia are told the news that they have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the breast. These abnormal cells grow and divide faster than normal cells. They can also invade the breast and surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

The breast is made up of fat, connective tissue and glandular tissue that forms sections called lobules and lobes (a collection of lobules). The breast (milk) ducts connect the lobes to the nipple. There are a number of different types of breast cancers, most of which begin in the breast ducts.

To find out about different types of breast cancer, visit Cancer Council Western Australia (external site).

Diagnosis of breast cancer

If you, or your doctor, find unusual changes in your breast, further tests will be carried out to determine if you have breast cancer. These include:

  • Diagnostic mammography. Diagnostic mammography uses the same technique as screening mammography. However, in this case it helps determine whether the breast changes or abnormalities that you or your doctor has found are breast cancer.
  • Ultrasound. This is a painless test that uses sound waves to create a picture of the breast tissue on a small screen similar to a television. Ultrasound is often used for young women whose breasts are too dense to give a clear picture with mammography. It is also used to see if a breast lump is solid or contains fluid.
  • Fine needle aspiration. A very thin needle is inserted into the breast and a sample of cells is removed. Ultrasound or x-ray may be used to guide the needle to the area of the breast that is being examined. The cells are examined to see if they are cancer cells.
  • Core biopsy. A needle is inserted into the breast and a small core of tissue is removed so it can be examined for signs of cancer. As with fine needle aspiration, ultrasound or x-ray may be used to guide the needle to the area of the breast that is being examined. This procedure is carried out under a local anaesthetic.
  • Surgical or open biopsy. In some cases surgical biopsy may be necessary to remove part, or all, of the lump for examination. It is performed under general anaesthetic in hospital.

Treatment of breast cancer

The type of treatment you are offered will depend on your situation and the type of breast cancer you have. This is because treatment that is best for one woman may not be suitable for another.

Although nearly all treatments have side effects, most can be effectively managed. Ask your doctor to explain what side effects to expect and how best to manage these.

Treatments used for breast cancer include:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy.

Find out more about the different treatments for cancer.

Surgery for breast cancer

There are two types of surgery for breast cancer:

  • breast conserving surgery
  • mastectomy.

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 adjunct radiation therapy is as effective as mastectomy for most women diagnosed with early breast cancer.

A mastectomy involves the removal of the whole breast affected by cancer. If you are considering breast reconstruction you should 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.

After your surgery you may wish to use a breast prosthesis or artificial breast. This can be an important part of your recovery. Visit Cancer Council Western Australia (external site) for information on breast prostheses.

More information

For more information on all aspects of cancer diagnosis, treatment and management visit Cancer Council Western Australia (external site).

Where to get help


  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in WA.
  • Once breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body it is more difficult to treat.
  • Although nearly all treatments have side effects, most can be effectively managed.

This information provided by
Logo: Cancer Council Western Australia


Cancer Council Western Australia

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.