ABOUT BREAST CANCER

What are the facts?1

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in Australia.
  • One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • In 2014, 15,270 women are predicted to be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia.
  • In 2020, 17,210 women are projected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia. This is an average of 47 women every day.
  • Increasing age is one of the strongest risk factors for developing breast cancer. More than two in three cases of breast cancer occur in women aged between 40 and 69 years.
  • Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer have an 89% chance of surviving five years after diagnosis.
  • Improvements in survival are attributed to earlier detection of breast cancer through regular mammograms and improved treatment outcomes for breast cancer.
  • On average, seven women die from breast cancer every day in Australia. Finding breast cancer early increases the chance of surviving the disease.
  • Although rare, breast cancer can also affect men, accounting for about 1% of cases. Around 110 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia each year.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that originates in the cells of the breast. Cancer develops when cells grow abnormally and multiply. These abnormal cells develop into cancerous growths that can, in some cases, spread (metastasise) to other areas of the body. Breast cancer occurs predominantly in females, although men can also develop the disease, accounting for approximately 1% of cases.

For more details on the different types of breast cancer, visit Breast Cancer Network Australia.

Dispelling the myths

  • Myth: If I have a breast lump, it’s cancer.
    Truth: Most breast lumps are benign, which means not cancer. Benign lumps can be cysts (lumps or sacs filled with fluid or other material) or they can be due to normal breast changes associated with hormone changes or ageing. Remember, if you notice a change or something unusual in one of your breasts, see a doctor as soon as possible.

  • Myth: Only women get breast cancer.
    Truth: Men can also develop breast cancer, although it is rare, accounting for just one in 125 cases of breast cancer.

  • Myth: Bumping or bruising the breast can cause breast cancer.
    Truth: There is no evidence that an injury can cause breast cancer, but it might draw attention to an existing lump.

  • Myth: Breast cancer is contagious.
    Truth: You can’t catch breast cancer. It results from uncontrolled cell growth, but these changes cannot affect another person.

  • Myth: Wearing an underwire bra causes breast cancer.
    Truth: There is no proof that wearing an underwire or tight-fitting bra increases your risk of breast cancer.

  • Myth: Underarm anti-perspirants cause breast cancer.
    Truth: This common myth about breast cancer stems from an email rumour circulating some years ago that claimed the chemicals in anti-perspirants cause breast cancer by leading to a build-up of toxins in the lymph glands under the arm. There is no conclusive evidence to support this. The American Cancer Society says a large study published in 2002 found no link between breast cancer risk and anti-perspirant or deodorant use, or underarm shaving.

  • Myth: Having an abortion or miscarriage causes breast cancer.
    Truth: Research has shown there is no link between termination of pregnancy – whether abortion or miscarriage – and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Why is early detection important?

Finding breast cancer early greatly increases the chances of surviving the disease. Women who are diagnosed at an earlier stage of disease generally have higher survival rates than women diagnosed with more advanced breast cancer.

Early detection can significantly improve breast cancer survival rates, allowing physicians and oncologists time to appropriately treat the cancer.

BreastScreen Australia is the national mammography screening programme. Women aged 50 to 69 are advised to be screened every two years at one of the 500 BreastScreen locations across Australia. NBCF recommend women take part in the national screening programme and remain 'breast aware'.

What should I look out for?

  • A lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast.
  • A change in shape, crusting, a sore or ulcer, redness or inversion of the nipple.
  • Discharge from the nipple that is blood-stained, clear or occurs without squeezing.
  • Changes in the skin of the breast, such as any puckering or dimpling of the skin, unusual redness or other colour change.
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast. This might be either an increase in size or a decrease in size.
  • Unusual and persistent pain that is not related to the normal monthly cycle and occurs only in one breast.

Can I reduce my risk?

The general risks for an increased chance of getting breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. In a small percentage of cases, family history is also a risk factor – your risk of developing breast cancer increases if a close relative is diagnosed with breast cancer, the number of your relatives diagnosed with breast cancer, and if your relatives are diagnosed at a young age.

While most of us can do little to change the general risk factors for developing breast cancer, there are some very important things we do to help reduce our chances of getting the disease.

  • Reduce your alcohol intake: Research has shown a strong link between alcohol and the risk of developing breast cancer. To reduce your risk of breast cancer, try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. Women who put on a lot of weight in adulthood, particularly after menopause, may have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Be active: Studies have shown that regular exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer. You don’t need to sweat it out at the gym to get the benefits. Moderate exercise, like a brisk walk, can be enough to reduce your cancer risk. And the more you do, the greater the benefits.
  • Breastfeed if you can: Breast may be best for both you and the baby. The more months spent breastfeeding, the lower the risk of breast cancer.
  • Eat well. A healthy diet, of at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day, may help to reduce your risk of cancer.

For further information on breast cancer risk factors, visit Cancer Australia.

What can I do today?

  • Know what is normal for your breasts and regularly check for any changes.
  • Join Register4 - an online initiative of NBCF where you can sign up to participate in breast cancer research.
  • Are you between 50 and 69? Call BreastScreen on 13 20 50 for a free mammogram.

1Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Cancer Australia 2012. Breast cancer in Australia: an overview. Cancer series no. 71. Cat no. CAN 67. Canberra: AIHW.