Breast Cancer

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:

  1. Pre-invasive: where the cancer cells are still confined to the ducts or lobules of the breast.
  2. 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:

  1. Surgery
  2. Chemotherapy, and
  3. Radiotherapy

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 radiotherapy is a common and standard treatment approach.

External Beam Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer

Radiotherapy 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.

At ARC women with a left sided breast cancer diagnosis also have access to new radiotherapy technology known as Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH). Deep inspiration breath hold is a treatment technique for breast cancer patients that minimises radiation exposure to the heart. Adelaide Radiotherapy Centre is the only South Australian Radiotherapy service provider who is able to offer this technique to patients.

The method requires patients with left-sided breast cancer to hold their breath while treatment is administered - hence the name Deep Inspiration Breath Hold. Taking a deep breath in, increases the amount of air in the lungs and also the distance between the heart and the area of the breast receiving radiation treatment. Increasing the distance between the radiation beams and the heart reduces the subsequent potential risk of heart injury. To find out more, you may wish to refer to our patient information sheet here or view the video below.


Routinely radiotherapy treatment is delivered using External Beam Radiotherapy, 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.

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