Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow in an uncontrolled way. These cells may eventually form a lump and spread to other parts of the body. There are different types of breast cancer; some that grow slowly and others that are more aggressive. About one in nine Australian women will develop breast cancer before they reach the age of 85.

While there is no known cure for breast cancer, the death rate from breast cancer has significantly decreased over the years and the survival rates have improved. It is thought that this is a result of breast screening which means earlier detection, and more effective treatment now available.


Breast cancer risk

What can you do?

Australian women have a lifetime risk of one in eight of developing breast cancer. There are a number of risk factors for breast cancer and the most important one is your age. We know that 75% of all breast cancers occur after age 50 and that regular screening mammograms is the most effective way of reducing breast cancer related deaths in this age group.

If you are over 50 and have NOT had a mammogram in the last two years, contact Breastscreen now on 13 20 50.

Many women are also concerned about their risk relating to their family history and often believe that if anyone in their family has had breast cancer then they have an increased risk of also developing this disease. This may not be the case. Family risk depends on a number of factors:

  • how close the relative is to you (eg your mother having breast cancer is much more significant than your grandmother, aunt or cousin)
  • how many relatives have been affected
  • the age of your relative when they were diagnosed (eg a diagnosis in their 30s is much more significant than if they were in their 60s)
  • if any of these relatives were men

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you can calculate your risk using Cancer Australia’s Risk Calculator and talk to your doctor.

Although we cannot change how old we are or our family history, there a number of important things we can do to reduce our breast cancer risk.

There are some factors that may have a protective effect against breast cancer but these are not always under your control. These include having children at a younger age and breastfeeding. However, women who have these protective factors may still develop breast cancer. Similarly having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you will develop breast cancer.

To find out more about breast health go to Breast Screen Queensland and Cancer Australia.