If you have concerns about your risk of breast cancer or think you may be presenting breast cancer symptoms, Breast Associates' experienced specialists can help.
Together we will discuss your risk factors, assess your symptoms, arrange the necessary tests and then plan any treatment if required. An appropriate breast care regimen will be put in place, tailored specifically to your individual needs.
There are several reasons you may wish to see a specialist at Breast Associates:
Breast pain is extremely common, and most women experience it at some time in their life. You may have breast pain in one or both breasts. It can be aching, stabbing, pulling or hot. It can fluctuate with your menstrual cycle or it can be constant. Sometimes breast pain is so severe it interferes with daily living.
Understandably some women worry that uncomfortable breasts may be a symptom of breast cancer. This is seldom the case, but the reassurance of an examination and possibly a mammogram and/or ultrasound scan can help reduce anxiety by identifying the cause.
If your pain is persistent or severe you should see a breast specialist - your discomfort may result from hormone fluctuations, certain medications, large breasts, cysts, trauma or infection.
Your specialist will develop a plan to relieve your condition, which may simply involve changes to your lifestyle and/or medication.
It can be frightening to find a lump in your breast, but it is important to remember than nine out of ten breast lumps are areas of normal breast tissue affected in various ways by hormone fluctuations. Monthly menstrual cycles and age related imbalances are common causes of abnormalities in your breasts. Given that some lumps are cancerous, you should always visit a doctor if you find one.
Your first consultation with a Breast Associates doctor will include a breast examination and depending on your age, you will also have a mammogram and/or ultrasound. It is also possible that a biopsy (needle test) will be performed. This combination of tests is referred to as the triple test and is widely accepted as the best approach to confirm or exclude breast cancer.
If your test results confirm the lump as benign, you do not have breast cancer and your lump does not have to be removed by surgery. However, we advise a follow up appointment at three to six months, as some benign breast lumps continue to grow and can be surgically removed if you prefer.
It is common for women to secrete white, cream or multi-coloured fluid from ducts on their nipples if squeezed. This is normal duct fluid and is not a breast problem or anything to be worried about.
It is not necessary to squeeze your nipples to check for fluid as only a spontaneous discharge (leaking without assistance) can be a breast concern. It will be one-sided, seeping from one duct and clear yellow in colour or blood stained. But even with all these characteristics, most discharge will be benign (not a sign of breast cancer). However, it’s important you see a breast specialist for assessment to accurately identify the cause.
You may have noticed one of your nipples inverting (turning inwards), pointing to one side, or any persistent skin change on the tip of your nipple. In these instances of nipple change, it is important to see your doctor.
Breast Infection or Mastitis
Breast infection, or mastitis, can occur at any age, but is most common in breastfeeding women. Early symptoms of mastitis include:
- Breast pain
- Skin redness
- Breast swelling
- Flu-like symptoms
- Painful lump
Infection can be confused with breast engorgement, but this is not usually accompanied by prominent skin redness, heat and fever.
True mastitis is a bacterial infection, with fever and marked skin redness and as a result you will need antibiotics. Without antibiotics, it may develop into a breast abscess (a collection of pus), which will need to be drained. Non-breastfeeding women can also get mastitis and it is treated in the same way.
An examination by your breast specialist will prompt early diagnosis and treatment. This also presents an opportunity to exclude a very rare form of cancer called inflammatory carcinoma (or inflammatory breast cancer). Inflammatory breast cancer presents with generalised breast redness, swelling and firmness, but is not accompanied by fever associated with mastitis.
Other types of mastitis are less common. The causes of periductal mastitis and granulomatous mastitis are unknown, but women who smoke are more likely to get periductal mastitis.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Many women overestimate their risk of developing breast cancer causing themselves unnecessary worry. The cause of breast cancer is still not known, but it is helpful to understand the risk factors.
The most important risk factors for breast cancer are:
- Being female
- Getting older
- Having a significant family history of breast cancer
- Having previously had certain benign breast diseases or breast cancer
- Taking hormone replacement therapy for more than five years doubles your risk of breast cancer.
All other breast cancer risk factors increase your risk by much smaller amounts.
- Drinking alcohol (and the risk increases the more you drink)
- Being overweight after menopause
- Having your first child after 30, or having no children
- Not breastfeeding your children
Breast Cancer Myths
While the cause of breast cancer remains unknown, there is no evidence to support claims that the following might increase your risk of breast cancer:
- Squeezing or bumping your breast
- Underwire bras
- Antiperspirants and deodorants
Breast Cancer Facts
- One in nine women in New Zealand will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
- One per cent of breast cancer occurs in men.
- More than 2600 women in New Zealand are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
- The cause of breast cancer remains unknown.
Family History Risks
Family history is one of the significant breast cancer risk factors but this may not affect you as much as you might imagine. The specialists at Breast Associates are highly experienced at helping you through this family history assessment.
It is important to understand that having one aged relative diagnosed with breast cancer does not significantly increase your risk. Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any family history of the disease.
When your specialist asks about members of your family who have had breast or ovarian cancer and their age at diagnosis, they are looking for specific features that suggest a hereditary abnormal gene. Your risk will then be assessed as low, medium or high risk.
Women who are at high risk of breast cancer may be advised to see their specialist more frequently. The specialist may also suggest referral to a genetic councillor to discuss gene testing.