Breast health

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer, like other cancers, is a disease of the body's cells. Occasionally, some cells begin to behave in an abnormal way and grow into a mass of tissue called a tumour, or cancer.

Breast cancer generally arises in the cells that line the specialised glandular breast tissue. There are Breast cancer, some grow very slowly whilst others develop more rapidly.

Structure and function of the breast

The breasts (mammary glands) are a pair of organs that produce milk after pregnancy and are made up of glandular, fibrous and fatty tissues.

The glandular tissue, consisting of milk sacs and ducts, is divided into segments or lobes arranged like the spokes of a wheel. From each lobe the milk ducts lead to the nipple area (see diagram). The lobes of glandular tissue are surrounded by fatty and fibrous tissues.

In the breast area and the armpit, there are lymph glands or nodes which are connected by a system of channels. These glands and channels are part of the lymph system which helps the body fight infection.

Illustration of the breast reproduced with permission from Cancer Australia

Breast awareness and self-examination

It’s never too early to start being breast aware and it’s important to regularly check your breasts, even if you’re having regular screening.

Take note of the look and feel of your breasts. If you notice a change, such as a lump or nipple discharge, contact your doctor as soon as possible to arrange further investigation.

You don’t need to be an expert or use a special technique to check your breasts. Take the time to get to know the normal look and feel of your breasts as part of everyday activities like showering, dressing, putting on body lotion or simply looking in the mirror. Knowing what is normal for you will help you to detect any new breast changes.

Signs and symptoms

Breast tissue does not stay the same throughout a woman's adult life. Monthly periods, pregnancy, age and weight changes can alter the shape, size and feel of the breast.

Although nine out of ten breast lumps are not due to breast cancer, a woman who becomes aware of any change in her breasts should contact her doctor promptly to arrange further investigation.

Common myths

There are a number of “myths” about the risk factors and causes of breast cancer that sound plausible but have little or no scientific theory or data to support them:

  • there is no evidence to suggest that using antiperspirants and deodorants can increase the risks of developing breast cancer.
  • there are no studies that support breast size being a factor in breast cancer development
  • there is no evidence that wearing a bra will affect your chances of getting breast cancer
  • a bump or blow to the breast will not cause breast cancer. It may however, make the woman more aware of an underlying lump

For more information on breast cancer, see Cancer Australia or Cancer Council South Australia


Image of the breast reproduced with permission from Cancer Australia

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