Breast health

About breast cancer

Breast cancer is a disease that develops in breast tissue as a result of abnormal cells. Eventually these abnormal cells can damage or invade the surrounding tissues, or spread to other parts of the body such as in the lungs, bones and lymph glands.

There are various types of breast cancer, some slow growing and other types that are far more aggressive. If left untreated, the disease can cause death. Treatment depends on the type of breast cancer diagnosed. However, survival rates have dramatically improved as a result of early detection through breast screening and the availability of more effective treatments.

Fast facts

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in females, with around 1 in 7 women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • Being female and getting older are the biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer.
  • Nine out of 10 women who get breast cancer do NOT have a family history of the disease.
  • Most breast cancers occur in women over 50.
  • The five-year breast cancer survival rate has increased from 74% in 1985-1989 to around 90% in 2011-2015.
  • Regular breast screening remains the most effective way to reduce deaths from breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer is uncommon in men, accounting for less than 1% of all breast cancers.

What can you do to reduce your risk and detect breast cancer early?

Know the risk factors for breast cancer

The biggest known risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older, with three-quarters of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50.

There are many risk factors that can contribute to the chance of developing breast cancer. More information is available at

While there are risk factors that cannot be changed, there are some things you can do to manage the risk of developing breast cancer such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight - for women a health body weight is a waistline circumference of below 80cm (31.5 in) or Body Mass Index (BMI) range of 18.5 to 25.
  • Be active every day - aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day. Doing any physical activity is better than doing none: if you currently do none, start by moving more and sitting less, and gradually build up to 30 minutes a day. The more exercise you do, the more the benefits.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption - drinking alcohol increases your risk for breast cancer, and the more you drink, the more your risk increases. If you choose to drink, limit alcohol consumption to no more than one standard drink a day. Some medications such as combined oestrogen-progestogen menopausal hormone therapy can also increase your risk of breast cancer. Discuss your needs regularly with your doctor.

You can visit Cancer Australia’s website, for more information.

Be breast aware

It is important that you are aware of the normal look and feel of your breasts at any age and in between breast screens and that you report any changes to your doctor without delay, even if your breast screen was normal. Things to look out for include:

  • a new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
  • a change in the shape or size of your breast
  • a change to the nipple such as crusting, ulcer, redness or the nipple pull in
  • a discharge from your nipple that occurs without squeezing the nipple
  • a change to the skin of your breast such as redness or dimpling or puckered skin
  • a pain that does not go away

Have regular breast screens

Regular breast screening remains the most effective way to reduce deaths from breast cancer and breast screens can detect breast cancer well before you or your doctor notice any changes. A breast screen is recommended every two years between the ages of 50 and 74.

Last reviewed 1 September 2020 Last updated 1 September 2020

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COVID-19 Alert

We’re still operating but we’ve made some changes to the way we work to reduce the ongoing risk of COVID-19.

If you’ve recently had a COVID-19 vaccination, there’s no need to delay your breast screen.

Stay at home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention.

If you’re feeling unwell, call us on 13 20 50 to cancel or reschedule your breast screening appointment.

If you’re feeling well, it’s important that you continue to access your usual health services, including breast screening if you’re due.

For updates on COVID-19, please visit Queensland Health