Breast cancer

Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor. All statistics have been sourced from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Breast Cancer Statistics:

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in Australia.
  • In 2009, there were 13,668 new cases of breast cancer in women and 110 new cases in men.
  • One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • The five year survival rate for Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer is 89%.
More cancer stats

Learn more about breast cancer, the most prevalent women’s cancer, at

The dedicated breast cancer site hosts information and latest breast cancer research news in one place.

Overview of Breast Cancer:

Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that originates in the cells of the breast. Breast cancer occurs predominantly in females, although men can also develop the disease. Male breast cancer accounts for approximately 1% of cases.

Breast cancer can occur at any age. It is more common in women aged over 60, although around one-quarter of women are younger than 50.

Breast cancer can start in the ducts or lobules of the breast. When the cancer cells stay in the ducts and lobules of the breast, this is called non-invasive breast cancer. If the cancer cells spread into the surrounding tissue, this is called invasive breast cancer.

Most breast cancers are ductal carcinomas – this means they have originated in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple and are malignant (cancerous). Less common are lobular carcinomas – these form within the cells that line the lobules which produce milk.

Breast cancer stages

Breast cancer is categorised in stages, according to spread (Stage I, II, III, IV) and size (A, B, C). The stage of the cancer will determine how it is treated.

For example, early breast cancer – or early-stage breast cancer – is invasive cancer that includes Stages I, II and early cases of IIIA. The cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other, distant parts of the body.

Locally advanced breast cancer is typically considered a stage III cancer. It refers to breast cancer cells that may have spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit or other areas near the breast such as the skin, muscle or ribs.

Secondary breast cancer, sometimes called advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer, is Stage IV cancer. It occurs when the breast cancer cells break away and travel through the blood or lymphatic vessels to lodge and grow in another location in the body.

Genetic factors in Breast Cancer:

Having a mother or sister diagnosed with breast cancer approximately doubles the risk of developing the disease as breast cancer can be genetic. However, more than 8 out of 10 women who have a close relative with breast cancer never develop the disease themselves.

If there is a strong family history of breast cancer, there is a chance this is due to a faulty gene in your family. The genes known to cause, or increase the risk of, breast cancer are called TP53, PTEN, BRCA1 and BRCA2. The risk of getting breast cancer by the age of 80 if you have either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene fault is between 45 and 90%.

To be tested for BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53 or PTEN, you need have a strong family history of breast cancer, with a living relative (or relatives) available to be tested first to verify which fault on the genes might run in the family.

Affected family members must be close blood relatives and must all be from the same side of the family. This is called a mutation search and can take up to a few weeks or months for results to come through.

If a faulty gene is found researchers can then look for that same gene fault in you. This is called predictive testing.

If the test comes back positive, it is then up to you to decide how you would like to proceed. Speaking with your GP and specialist will give you a clear indication of your options and what choice is best for you.

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