The chance of surviving breast cancer has increased significantly in recent years due to better screening and more effective treatment. Most women with early breast cancer will not die from the disease.
In most cases, surgery is used to remove the cancer. Radiotherapy (X-ray treatment) may be given to destroy any cancer cells remaining in the breast. Hormonal therapy and/or chemotherapy (cancer-drugs) can kill cancer cells that may have spread outside the breast.
What's new in hormone treatment?
In many cases, breast cancer cells have hormone receptors and are sensitive to the female hormone, oestrogen.
'Anti-oestrogens' such as tamoxifen stop hormone-sensitive cancer cells from getting oestrogen. They can help kill cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence. Tamoxifen is usually taken for 5 years after surgery.
The new 'aromatase inhibitors' such as anastrozole stop oestrogen being produced in postmenopausal women. Recent research showed that anastrozole is both more effective than tamoxifen and better tolerated. It has recently received a government subsidy on the PBS for some cases.
Mastectomy performed less
Most women with early breast cancer are now able to keep their breast after surgery. Surgery to remove only the lump and a margin of healthy breast tissue, combined with radiotherapy, is as effective as mastectomy (removing the whole breast) in most cases.
After mastectomy, breast reconstruction to rebuild a breast shape and even a nipple is also increasingly popular and can be done at the time of the original surgery.
Early detection is the key
Finding breast cancer early gives you the best chance of survival. Free mammograms are available every 2 years for women over 40. Ring BreastScreen on 13 20 50 to book.
Be aware of the look and feel of your breasts and report any changes promptly. Your GP may advise an annual breast check.
For further information: http://www.nbcc.org.au/.
Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.