Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women. It can also affect men.

Breast cancer is a cancer that develops in your breast tissue.

All women should be aware of their breasts. 

You should know what your breasts normally look and feel like so that any unusual changes can be investigated.

Reduce your risk of breast cancer

You can reduce your risk of breast cancer by doing all the following:

  • drinking less alcohol
  • increasing exercise
  • getting regular breast checks with your local health professional.

Free screening test

If you are between 50 and 74 years of age you can have a free mammogram with BreastScreenNT.

You can have screenings at any of the following places:

  • Darwin - all year
  • Palmerston - weekly
  • Katherine - once a year
  • Gove - every second year
  • Alice Springs - twice a year
  • Tennant Creek - once a year
  • remote communities as per the screening schedule with the BreastScreenNT bus.

For more information call 13 20 50 or go to BreastScreenNT.

Symptoms

It is important to know the normal look and feel of your breasts. Things you should look out for include:

  • a new lump or lumpiness in your breasts, especially if it is only in one breast
  • a change in the size and shape of your breast
  • a change to the nipple such as crusting, an ulcer, redness or the nipple pulled in
  • a change in the skin of your breast such as redness or dimpling or puckered skin
  • a pain that does not go away.

Initial diagnostic tests in the NT

Your doctor will examine you and do other tests such as any of the following:

  • mammogram
  • ultrasound
  • possible tissue sample, called a biopsy.

If they suspect you have cancer, they will refer you to a surgeon at the Royal Darwin Hospital or Alice Springs Hospital, depending on where you live. They can also refer you to a surgeon at Darwin Private Hospital

They will determine the spread of the cancer with more tests, which may include:

  • mammography with ultrasounds
  • tissue sample collection (biopsy).

Treatment in the NT

Your surgeon will determine the stage of cancer and will discuss surgery options with you.

If surgery is an option, they will discuss additional treatment and management of your cancer with other specialists.

Surgery

The type of surgery will depend on the stage your cancer is at. If you have late stage cancers you are unlikely to have surgery.

You may have either:

  • lumpectomy - the tumour is removed from your breast
  • mastectomy - removal of your breasts.

Your surgery will be carried out at either the Royal Darwin Hospital or Alice Springs Hospital, depending on where you live. You can also choose to have surgery at Darwin Private Hospital

Drug therapy

Drug therapy may include any of the below.

Chemotherapy

Benefits most patients. Treatment is usually three to six months.

Hormone therapy

Benefits patients at high risk of recurrence. Treatment is usually five years.

Targeted therapy

Only given for certain types of cancer. Treatment is usually one year. 

Drug therapy is carried out at the Alan Walker Cancer Centre in Darwin, Alice Springs Hospital or you may have to travel interstate. 

Radiotherapy

Usually used for intermediate and high risk tumours. Length of treatment is five to six weeks.

Radiotherapy is carried out at the Alan Walker Cancer Centre in Darwin or interstate.

You may be eligible for the Patient Assistance Travel Scheme.

Support services

Your doctor can refer you to other support services such as an occupational therapist or physiotherapist.

The Cancer Council NT can also provide support from a breast care nurse. They can also help you with breast prostheses.

Call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or go to the Cancer Council NT website.

For more information read cancer journeys - breast.

Follow up care

You are likely to need an annual mammogram.

Last updated: 27 June 2017