What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that originates in the cells of the breast. Cancer develops when the 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.


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Breast cancer occurs predominantly in females, although men can also develop the disease, accounting for approximately 1% of cases. There is no 'one disease' that occurs in the breast, rather there are several types and sub-types of disease that may be referred to as breast cancer. These include:

  • Early/invasive breast cancer
  • Ductal carcinoma insitu
  • Lobular carcinoma insitu
  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • Paget's disease of the nipple
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Locally advanced breast cancer
  • Secondary breast cancer (also known as advanced or metastatic breast cancer)
  • Male breast cancer

Breast cancer facts

1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer


In 2020, it is estimated that 19,998 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer

On average 55 people are diagnosed with breast cancer everyday

37 Females

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian women, representing 29% of all cancers in females with the majority (80%) of cases diagnosed in females aged 50 and above


By 2020, 19,998 women are projected to be diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia. This is an average of 55 people every day. Increasing age is one of the strongest risk factors for developing breast cancer

37 Females

Improvements in survival are attributed to earlier detection of breast cancer through regular mammograms and improved treatment outcomes for breast cancer


Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer have an 90% chance of surviving 5 years after diagnosis

37 Females

8 women die from breast cancer each day

Although rare, breast cancer can affect men. In 2020, it is estimated 170 men will be diagnosed

How does breast cancer affect Australians?

In 2020, breast cancer in females is expected to be the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia and fourth-largest cause of cancer related deaths. It is also estimated that 3000 Australian women will lose their battle with breast cancer in 2020 – that's 8 women a day, making it the second most common cause of cancer-related death in women, after lung cancer.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom for breast cancer is a lump found in the breast or armpit. The lumps can be benign and do not spread to other parts of the body or they can be malignant (cancerous). The best way to identify breast cancer is to do a monthly breast self-exam and become familiar with your breasts' texture, cyclical changes, size and skin condition so you pick up any changes that might suggest cancer. Symptoms can include:

  • Swelling, lump or thickness in the breast
  • Changes to the skin of the breast such as puckering or dimpling of the skin or unusual redness or other colour change
  • Unusual tenderness, breast pain or discomfort or change in size of breast
  • Change in shape, crusting, pain or soreness of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge that is clear or bloody that occurs without squeezing
  • Swelling in the armpit

Early Detection

Like any major disease, early detection is vital. BreastScreen Australia was established in 1991 to provide free biennial screening mammograms to women aged 50-74. Incidence rates of breast cancer increased after BreastScreen was introduced, however, there has been a reduction in breast cancer mortality in women 50 to 69 years of age of approximately 36.5 per cent due to earlier diagnosis. Visit BreastScreen website to make your appointment now.


Risk Factors

While the cause of breast cancer is not fully understood, it is known that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop this disease. There are different types of risk factors, some of which can be modified and some that cannot. These include:

  • A family history of breast cancer
  • Already being diagnosed with a previous breast condition
  • Hormonal factors such as late menopause or using a combination of hormone replacement therapy
  • Child-bearing history such as not having children or having them at a later age (breastfeeding has been associated with a modest decrease in risk of breast cancer)
  • Personal and lifestyle factor including increasing age, taller height, excess weight and obesity (particularly in postmenopausal females), low physical activity and alcohol consumption

Healthy Habits

While you can't do anything to change the risk factors such as being a woman, getting older or your family history, there are several other things you can do to reduce your risks and stay healthy.

  • Have a mammogram every two years, it can save your life
  • Maintain a health body weight
  • Exercise regularly, something as simple as a brisk walk is enough to reduce the risk
  • Eat a healthy diet with at least five serves of vegetable and two serves of fruit per day
  • Reduce your alcohol intake to no more than 2 standard drinks a day
  • Don't smoke, although there is no clear link between smoking a breast cancer, toxins have been found in breast cells and smoking is a major cause of other disease and cancers


Cancer Council http://www.cancer.org.au
National Breast Cancer Foundation http://www.nbcf.org.au
Breast Cancer Network Australia http://www.bcna.org.au/

Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guideline only. The sources used are believed to be reliable and in no way replace consultation with a Health Professional.