About breast cancer

Page last updated: 19 November 2015

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women. It can also affect men.

Breast cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the breast tissues multiply and form an invasive (or malignant) tumour. Not all tumours are invasive, some are benign tumours that are not life-threatening, whereas others are called "in situ" lesions because they are contained in the milk ducts and have not invaded the surrounding tissue.

It is important to know the normal look and feel of your breasts. Things you should look out for include:

  • a new lump or lumpiness in your breasts, especially if it is in only one breast
  • a change in the size and shape of your breast
  • a change to the nipple such as crusting, an ulcer, redness or the nipple pulled in
  • a change in the skin of your breast such as redness or dimpling or puckered skin
  • a pain that does not go away.
Most breast changes will not be due to breast cancer but you should get them checked. If you notice a change in the look or feel of your breasts, even if your screening mammogram was normal, see your GP without delay. The symptoms of breast cancer depend on where the tumour is in the breast, the size of the tumour and how quickly it is growing.

In 2012, 14 680 people (14 560 women and 120 men) were diagnosed with breast cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, and most breast cancers happen in women over the age of 50.

Breast cancer is both rarer and more difficult to detect in men of any age and the harms of screening mammograms are currently assessed as outweighing the benefits. For this reason men of all ages are instead encouraged to report any changes or concerns they have about their breasts to their doctor.

*Breast cancer is usually reported as the most common cancer affecting Australian women. Rates of non-melanoma skin cancer are thought to be higher, but as cases are not reported to cancer registries and are rarely life-threatening, it is not usually considered when comparing major cancer types.

More information is available on the Cancer Australia website

In this section