What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia (apart from non-melanoma skin cancer) and the second most common cancer to cause death in women, after lung cancer.
Breast cancer is the abnormal growth of the cells lining the breast lobules or ducts. These cells grow uncontrollably and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. Both men and women can develop breast cancer, although it is uncommon in men.
In Australia, the overall five year survival rate for breast cancer in females is 90%. If the cancer is limited to the breast, 96% of patients will be alive five years after diagnosis; this figure excludes those who die from other diseases. If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, five year relative survival drops to 80%.
In 2014, 16,614 women and 140 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia. The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer by age 85 is 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 721 for men.
In 2016, 2976 women and 28 men died of breast cancer in Australia.
The five year survival rate is 91%.
Some people have no symptoms and the cancer is found during a screening mammogram or a physical examination by a doctor.
If you do have symptoms, they could include:
- new lumps or thickening in the breast or under the arm
- nipple sores
- nipple discharge or turning in
- changes in the size or shape of the breast
- skin of the breast dimpling
- rash or red swollen breasts.
Pain is rare.
Some factors that increase your risk of breast cancer include:
- increasing age
- family history
- inheritance of mutations in the genes BRCA2, BRCA1 and CHEK2
- exposure to female hormones (natural and administered)
- a previous breast cancer diagnosis
- a past history of certain non-cancerous breast conditions
Lifestyle factors that can also slightly increase the risk of breast cancer in men and women include:
- being overweight
- not enough physical activity
- drinking alcohol
There is also an association with some benign breast disease and past exposure to radiation.
Women aged between 50 and 74 are invited to access free screening mammograms every two years via the BreastScreen Australia Program.
Women aged 40-49 and 75 and over are also eligible to receive free mammograms, however do not receive an invitation to attend.
It is recommended that women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, aged between 40 and 49 or over 75 discuss options with their GP, or contact BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50.