Breast Cancer

  • Overview

    Breast cancer occurs when the cells lining the breast ducts or lobules grow abnormally and out of control. A tumour can form in the ducts or lobules of the breast.

    When the cells that look like breast cancer are still confined to the ducts or lobules of the breast, it is called pre-invasive breast cancer.

    Most breast cancers are found when they are invasive. This means the cancer has spread outside the ducts or lobules of the breast into surrounding tissue.


    You may notice a change in your breast or your doctor may find an unusual breast change during a clinical breast examination. Signs to look for include:

    • a lump, lumpiness or thickening
    • changes to the nipple - such as a change in shape, crusting, a sore or an ulcer, redness or a nipple that turns in (inverted) when it used to stick out
    • changes to the skin of the breast - such as dimpling of the skin, unusual redness or other colour changes
    • change in the shape or size of the breast - this might be either an increase or decrease in size
    • unusual discharge from the nipple without squeezing
    • swelling or discomfort in the armpit
    • persistent, unusual pain - if this is not related to your normal monthly cycle, remains after a period and occurs in one breast only.

    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    © Cancer Council NSW 2011


    Tests to diagnose breast cancer

    Several tests are usually used to find out if your breast change is due to breast cancer.

    Physical examination

    Your doctor will feel your breasts and the lymph nodes under your arms. They will also take a full medical history and ask about your family history.


    A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast tissue. This scan can find changes that are too small to be felt through a physical examination.

    Your breast is pressed between two x-ray plates, which spread the breast tissue out so clear pictures can be taken. Both breasts are checked. Many women find this procedure uncomfortable, but it’s over in about 20 seconds.

    Sometimes, the doctor will feel a lump that is not shown on a mammogram and other tests will need to be done.


    An ultrasound is a painless scan that uses soundwaves to create a picture of your body. A gel is spread on your breast and a small device called a transducer is moved over the area.

    This sends out soundwaves that echo when they meet something dense, like an organ or tumour. A computer creates a picture from these echoes. The scan takes about 15-20 minutes.


    Your doctor will suggest a biopsy if an abnormal or unusual area of tissue is found in your breast. During a biopsy, a small amount of tissue is removed from your breast. A pathologist examines the removed tissue and checks for cancer cells under a microscope. You may need to have more than one biopsy.

    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    © Cancer Council NSW 2011

  • Surgery

    Surgery for breast cancer will involve one of the following:

    • breast conserving surgery - removes part of the breast
    • mastectomy - removes the whole breast.

    In most cases, breast surgery also involves removing one or more lymph nodes from the armpit.

    It can be difficult to decide which type of surgery to have. Some women do not want to have their whole breast removed. Research has shown that breast conserving surgery, with sentinel node biopsy followed by radiotherapy, is as effective as mastectomy for most women with early breast cancer.

    The operations have different benefits, side effects and risks. Talk to your doctor or breast care nurse about the best option.

    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    © Cancer Council NSW 2013

    Removing lymph nodes

    Lymph nodes (glands) are found throughout the body, including the armpit. They are small, bean-shaped collections of lymph cells that protect the body against disease and infection. The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system.

    The lymph nodes in the armpit are often the first place breast cancer cells spread to outside the breast. To check if breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, they are removed. There are two ways of removing the lymph nodes.

    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    © Cancer Council NSW 2013

    Sentinel node biopsy

    The sentinel node is the first lymph node that breast cancer cells may spread to outside the breast.
    There can be more than one sentinel node. Usually it is in the armpit but it can also be found near the breast bone (sternum).

    Removing only the sentinel node/s will cause fewer side effects than axillary surgery. A small amount of radioactive substance is injected around the cancer before surgery. A scan is taken to show which node the substance has travelled to. During surgery, a blue dye is injected around the cancer in your breast. The dye moves into the lymphatic vessels. The nodes that become blue or radioactive first are known as the sentinel nodes, and the surgeon will remove only those nodes so they can be tested for cancer cells.

    If the sentinel nodes are clear of cancer cells, no further surgery is needed. If the sentinel nodes contain cancer cells, axillary surgery will be needed.

    Axillary (lymph node) surgery

    This may be done at the same time as your breast surgery or as a separate operation. The doctor will remove the least possible amount of your lymph nodes.

    Lymph nodes are sent to a pathologist for examination. The pathologist will provide a report that shows how many nodes were removed and how many contain cancer cells. For instance, if 17 nodes were removed and four contained cancer cells, the report will read: 4/17.

    Results help your doctor recommend further treatment.

    Physical side effects

    • Seroma – Fluid may collect in, or around, the scar in your breast or lymph nodes. The fluid may be drained using a fine needle and syringe. This can be done by the breast care nurse, your specialist or your GP.
    • Shoulder stiffness – Exercises can help prevent or manage shoulder stiffness. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can help.
    • Numbness of the arm – Surgery may damage nerves, causing your arm, and perhaps shoulder, to feel numb. The numbness will improve but may not go away completely. Shoulder exercises will help improve movement.
    • Lymphoedema – The arm may swell following lymph node surgery or sometime later.
      Fatigue – Feeling tired and having no energy may be a major problem. Treatment and the emotional impact of the diagnosis can be tiring. Your tiredness may continue for quite a while after treatment.
    • Most side effects can be managed. Talk to your doctor about any side effects you experience.

    Chemotherapy for breast cancer

    Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used:

    • if the risk of the cancer returning is high, to try to prevent the breast cancer coming back or spreading to other parts of the body
    • when cancer returns after surgery or radiotherapy, to gain control of the cancer and to relieve symptoms
    • if the cancer doesn’t respond to hormone therapy.

    There are several different types of chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer. The drug combination you are given will depend on the type of breast cancer you have and what other treatments you are having. Common drugs include cyclophosphamide, docetaxel, doxorubicin, carboplatin and fluorouracil. Your medical team may also refer to the drugs by their brand (trade) names.

    Chemotherapy is usually given through a vein (intravenously). You will have about 4-6 chemotherapy sessions every 2-3 weeks over several months. You usually will be treated as a day patient but occasionally an overnight stay may be recommended. The recovery time after each treatment session is called a cycle. This gives your body time to recover before the next session.

    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    © Cancer Council NSW 2013

    Radiotherapy for breast cancer

    Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells or stop them growing.

    This treatment is recommended after breast conserving surgery to help destroy any cancer cells left in the breast and reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. It is also occasionally given after a mastectomy.

    Treatment is carefully planned to do as little harm as possible to your normal body tissues. Before you start treatment, you will have a planning session at the radiotherapy centre. During this visit, x-rays are taken to pinpoint the area to be treated and marks will be put on your skin so that the radiation oncologist treats the same area each time. These marks are small dots and may be temporary or permanent (tattoos).

    Once treatment starts, you will probably have radiotherapy once a day from Monday to Friday for 5-6 weeks. Usually you can have outpatient treatment and go to the radiotherapy centre each day.

    Each radiotherapy session will be in a treatment room. Although you will only get radiation for 1-5 minutes, you might be in the treatment room for 10-30 minutes. Most of the time is spent positioning you and the treatment machine.

    You will lie on a table under the radiotherapy machine. The radiation therapist will leave the room then turn on the machine, but you can talk to staff through an intercom. Radiotherapy is not painful but you need to lie still while the treatment is given.

    Side effects

    Radiotherapy may cause the following side effects:

    • Tiredness - You may feel tired or fatigued 1-2 weeks after radiotherapy starts and during treatment. This usually eases a few weeks after treatment finishes.
    • Red and dry skin - The skin near the treatment site may become red and dry after a few weeks of treatment. The skin usually returns to normal 4-6 weeks after your treatment ends. Radiotherapy nurses will show you how to care for your skin.
    • Inflammation and blistering - Less commonly, your skin may become very irritated. This will be closely monitored by the treatment team.

    Radiotherapy to the breast does not cause hair loss. It also does not make you radioactive – it is safe to interact with your friends and family.

    Side effects

    The side effects caused by chemotherapy depend on the drugs used. Most side effects are temporary and steps can often be taken to prevent or reduce them.

    Side effects may include feeling sick (nauseous), vomiting, tiredness, mouth ulcers or weight changes. Most people who have chemotherapy lose their head and body hair.

    Some women’s periods become irregular or stop during chemotherapy but return to normal after treatment. For others, chemotherapy may cause periods to stop permanently (menopause).

    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    © Cancer Council NSW 2013

    Hormone therapy for breast cancer

    Hormone therapy, also called endocrine therapy, is for people who have ER+ hormone receptors on their breast cancer cells. The aim of hormone therapy is to slow or stop the growth of hormone receptor positive cancer cells.

    Ask your doctor if hormone therapy is suitable for you. This will depend on your age, the type of breast cancer you have and whether you have reached menopause.

    Cancer Council NSW

    Information extracted from the Cancer Council NSW website and reproduced with permission.

    © Cancer Council NSW 2013

2019 Quality Statement

“Excellence in Care”

The provision of excellent care to Riverina Cancer Care Centre (RCCC) patients is achieved by Centre staff and Volunteers’ participation in and observance of the Centre’s Quality system in the performance of their roles. Cooperation, collaboration, communication and mutual respect are critical to provision of excellent care.





RCCC Opening Hours

MON 7:30am - 5:00pm
TUE 7:30am - 5:00pm
WED 7:30am - 5:00pm
THU 7:30am - 5:00pm
FRI 7:30am - 5:00pm
SAT closed
SUN closed

After Hours Emergency: Please access your local hospital emergency department.

Contact Us