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Read stories about women who have survived breast cancer
Statistics and survival data

View statistics on breast cancer on the AIHW site.

View survival data on breast cancer on the AIHW site.

View current evidence-based research on risk factors on the National Breast Cancer Centre site.


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Breast cancer awareness

Key Points

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian women. 1 in 14 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by age 75

  • Most lumps and breast changes are not breast cancer. 90% of breast lumps are harmless e.g. cysts

  • Breast cancer has a very high survival rate (more than 75% of women in Australia diagnosed with breast cancer survive for more than 5 years)

  • Early detection significantly improves your chances of survival. If breast cancer is detected early, while still localised in the breast, chances of five-year survival are around 90%; if it has spread to distant parts of the body, the survival rate drops to 18%

  • The major risk factor is age. The average age at which breast cancer is diagnosed is 64 years

  • There is no known single cause.

  • The risk of breast cancer is higher in some women because of genetic influences. If you have one or more close relatives who have had breast cancer, you may have a higher risk

  • Over 5% of breast cancer diagnosed is in young women (under 40)

  • You may reduce your risk of breast cancer by changing your lifestyle

  • Regular mammograms after age 50 could increase your chances of survival- BreastScreen Australia has set a goal of achieving a 30% reduction in breast cancer deaths based on a participation rate of 70% in mammographic screening for women aged 50-69.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) is the clearing house for all cancer statistics in Australia. The collection of data is drawn from the state cancer registries and analysis of the data cannot be undertaken until all states have submitted material. The AIHW has also published survival data for the period 1982-1994 drawing on information from state cancer registries.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a group of conditions. There is more than one type of breast cancer. Some breast cancers are genetic - that is they run in families. For others there is no known cause. We do not know what causes breast cancer. The two key risk factors are being a woman and getting older. Researchers are continuing to investigate the causes of breast cancer and other factors that may increase a person's risk.

The common feature of every type is that cells in the breast start to grow out of control. Normally cell growth is restricted to repairing normal cells. Chemicals ensure that growth stays orderly and doesn't get out of hand.

Cancer starts when these chemical "brakes" on growth are taken off or don't work or cells become insensitive to them. Cell growth becomes uncontrolled. The cells may start to look abnormal. Fast growing cancer cells in the breast produce a swelling or tumour. Most tumours are benign. That is the growth is contained to where it started.

Cancer cells are invasive. They spread beyond where they started, initially into adjacent tissues, then to other distant parts of the body via the blood and the lymphatic system. As they invade normal tissue, they destroy it. The spread of cancer cells to the surrounding fat, downward to the muscles or upwards to the skin, is described as local spread. Spread via the blood or lymphatic system, where the cells create new tumours in other parts of the body is known as metastasis. Most breast cancer is caught before this stage.

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