Breast Cancer Australia has ongoing awareness and prevention campaigns including our 'One in 11 women will be diagnosed before the age of 75' message in conjunction with our daily 'pink ribbon' message. Awareness and prevention continues to be a driving factor in reducing the number of deaths from breast cancer. Early detection is the key to successful treatment.
Breast cancer is the most common of all cancers affecting Australian women and accounts for over 25% of all cancers diagnosed. The incidence of breast cancer in women has risen over 35% from 2004 to 2014. In Australia in 2014, a total of 16,614 women and 140 men were diagnosed with breast cancer.*
The mortality rate of Australians with breast cancer has largely stabilised from 2005 to 2015: in 2015 there were 2,967 deaths, compared to 2,729 in 2005, an increase of less than 10%.* Despite the significant loss of life, survival prospects continue to improve.
Early diagnosis is a key factor - over 98% of women will survive at least five years after diagnosis when the cancer is 10mm or less, virtually the same as women without breast cancer. This falls to 73% if the cancer has grown to 30mm or more, and 49% for other sized cancers. Equally, the 5-year survival rate for cancers which have not spread to the lymph nodes is 97%, compared to 80% when it has spread. §
Ongoing national research projects and the implementation of best practice at medical and diagnostic levels have signfiicantly increased the chances of survival today.
There is no known preventative treatment for breast cancer. However, there are now more rapid detection methods which can greatly reduce the time taken for accurate testing and detection and therefore treatment of a malignant tumour. This is crucial in reducing the chances of metastasis.
There are several different ways to detect breast cancer, starting with regular self examination.
Whilst standing in front of the mirror with shoulders back and hands on hips
Apply minimal pressure with the thumb and forefinger to each nipple and check for discharge (milky, yellow fluid, or blood).
Feel your breast while lying down, sitting, standing, or in the shower.
Other than the presence of a physical lump, other symptoms include:
Things to consider:
If you find anything of concern, or have difficulty with self examination, you might consider medical examination with your local general practitioner. Your GP may then refer you for diagnostic mammography, which may lead to an ultrasound, fine needle biopsy, and/or core biopsy.
Between the ages of 50-74, free screening mammograms are conducted by BreastScreen Australia. Between 40-50 and after 75 they may be offered, depending on advice from your GP. Before the age of 40, mammograms are generally not effective, and other tests may be offered if there is cause for concern.
For information, and to book a BreastScreen appointment, call 13 20 50.
It is not possible to say what, exactly, causes breast cancer. However, research shows that some factors might increase the risk or chance of developing breast cancer.
Risk factors include:
There are other risk factors which seem to slightly increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer:
Diet and exercise can help to prevent or reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. The following lifestyle habits are encouraged:
Types of medical treatment include:
Here are five common myths about breast cancer.
An abnormality (lump) found in your breast means that you have breast cancer
An abnormality found in your breast does not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer. Approximately 80% of breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). However, the likelihood of a lump being cancerous increases with age.
Some breast abnormalities that you may find are cysts (a build-up of fluid with the appearance of a circular lump), calcifications (small areas formed by a build-up of calcium salts situated in the breast tissue) or nipple discharge (often occuring in females taking certain medication such as oral contraceptive pills and may also occur due to touching, suckling, and/or aggravation from garments to the nipple area, or lactation).
Fear of finding an abnormality can cause women to skip regular self checks or visits to the doctor. However, early detection is the greatest type of prevention method.
Possessing a family history of breast cancer means that you will also develop breast cancer
Having a family history of breast cancer does not increase your risk of getting breask cancer. The increase is minimal at approximately 5-10%.
Additionally, many breast cancers occur by chance, with it less likely to be a genetic cause if you or your relative(s) were older (50 or over) when diagnosed. Immediate relatives, being a grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter, are the only individuals included in a person's family history for this purpose.
If you do have a family history of breast cancer, five years prior to the age of that person when their cancer was detected, you should begin to have mammograms.
Men cannot contract breast cancer
Even though men have fewer breast cells than women, they can still contract breast cancer. An estimated 1 in 1,800 men, compared with 1 in 11 women, will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Even though this figure is relatively small, men should have routine breast checks with their general practitioner.
Breast cancer is a readily transmitted disease
Breast cancer is not a contagious disease. You cannot contract it from simply being around an individual who has breast cancer.
Breast cancer is actually the result of an irregular increase of cell growth in the breast tissue causing a malignant (cancerous) lump to form.
Mammograms can cause breast cancer
Mammograms are a safe and reliable method of x-raying an individual's breasts, to aid in identifying any images inside that person's breast area, whether they are benign or malignant.
When a mammogram is performed, the radiation level used is at the lowest amount possible, meaning that it is not a cause of breast cancer, and does not cause a pre-existing breast cancer to spread.
* Data sourced from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/acim-books/contents/acim-books
§ Data sourced from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website https://www.aihw.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/2007/oct/breast-cancer-survival-very-high-with-early-detect