Breast cancer is most common cancer in Australian women. Breast cancer occurs when the cells lining the breast ducts or lobules grow abnormally and out of control.
There are two common broad groups of breast cancers:
- Pre-invasive: where the cancer cells are still confined to the ducts or lobules of the breast.
- Invasive: this means the cancer has spread outside the ducts or lobules of the breast into the surrounding tissue.
Breast screening is an important element in the response to breast cancer incidence in our communities. Some signs and symptoms to be aware of are:
- A lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast tissue
- Changes to the nipple, such as a change in shape, crusting, a sore or ulcer, redness, unusual discharge
- Changes to the skin of the breast, such as dimpling, unusual redness or other colour changes
- A change to the shape of the breast, including increase or decrease in size
- Swelling or discomfort in the armpit
- Persistent pain that is not related to your normal menstrual cycle
Breast cancer treatment is often a multidisciplinary effort, involving:
- Chemotherapy, and
- Radiation Therapy
There are different approaches available for all three treatment modalities in terms of technique, treatment regimens and prescriptions. Your team of specialists will discuss and recommend what is best suited for your diagnosis.
As an example, for early stage breast cancer breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy) followed by a course of chemotherapy and then external beam radiation therapy is a common and standard treatment approach.
External Beam Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
Radiation Therapy has a vital role in the management of breast cancer.
It is used:
- In conjunction with surgery (either lumpectomy - removal of the tumour itself - or mastectomy - removal of the breast, including the tumour)
- Instead of surgery
- In advanced cases of cancer for symptom control (palliation)
In each of these scenarios the treatment program is individualised for the patient based on the surgery undertaken, and the pathology and disease staging test results. Sometimes only the breast (or chest) requires radiation and sometimes both the breast and any affected lymph nodes are treated.
Routinely radiation therapy treatment is delivered using External Beam Radiatio Therapy, but brachytherapy is also a viable treatment option for certain patients. Your Radiation Oncologist is the best person to advise you on what treatment is required, how effective the therapy should be and how the treatment will affect you.
Brachytherapy for Breast Cancer
Brachytherapy may be used to treat some breast cancers. This involves implanting catheters into the cancer site to give a high-dose of radiation to a very localised area. This is called Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation (APBI).
Our Ringwood and Footscray centres offer this advanced technique through its Integrated Brachytherapy Unit program. However, this is a selective radiotherapy technique so your Radiation Oncologist will be able to advise on your suitability for this treatment option.