Breast cancer fight is not over

Tuesday 18 October, 2011
  • Latest Cancer Council statistics reveal breast cancer related deaths dropping but incidence remains the same
  • One in five breast cancers in Australia linked with alcohol
  • Few are aware of major lifestyle risk factors for women's most common cancer

While the number of breast cancer-related deaths has steadily fallen over the past decade, latest Cancer Council figures show it is still one of the most common cancers with one in 11 Victorian women facing a diagnosis by the age of 75.

The figures reveal deaths from breast cancer in Victoria have been dropping by 2.5% (on average) each year since 1999.

In 2009 (latest stats available), breast cancer was the third most common cancer accounting for 12% of cancers in Victoria. A total of 3,964 women and 30 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 - 698 women and two men died. These 700 deaths accounted for 7% of all cancer-related deaths (the fourth ranking cause of death from cancer).

"The downward trend in deaths is a sign of improved treatments and shows people are heeding the advice of organisations like Cancer Council Victoria and BreastScreen Victoria to be screened and detect breast cancers at an earlier stage. However, the fight is not over and women also need to understand the role a healthy lifestyle can play in reducing breast cancer risk," said Cancer Council Victoria Screening Programs Manager, Kate Broun.

According to figures released by Cancer Council earlier this year, alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for breast cancer, accounting for more than one in five cases nationwide.

Overweight and obesity (having a waistline of over 85cm) have also been associated with a greater risk of post-menopausal breast cancer. However when asked what lifestyle factors contributed to cancer, only 9% of Victorians mentioned alcohol and just 1% thought obesity was a factor.
Ms Broun said greater awareness of these risk factors was needed.

"The link between alcohol and breast cancer is dose dependent, therefore the more you drink, the greater your risk. To minimise your risk, Cancer Council recommends having no more than two standard drinks per day. Reducing your alcohol consumption, as well as eating a healthy diet and regular physical activity, can also help keep your waistline in check."

Ms Broun said a large proportion of breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and older.

"It's important to be breast aware at any age - that means being familiar with what's normal for you and seeking medical advice when things don't look or feel right," she said.

While breast cancer is less common in men, Ms Broun said they should also be vigilant of unusual changes. Symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • A lump, lumpiness or thickening in the breast or armpit
  • Changes in the skin on the breast such as dimpling, puckering or redness
  • Changes in the nipple like it pointing inwards rather than out (unless it has always been this way) as well as a change in nipple direction or an unusual discharge.

Ms Broun encouraged women, particularly those aged 50 - 69, to have a mammogram every two years.

"Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer in the early stages - there is high level scientific evidence showing mammograms reduce the death rate," she said.

"Like all screening tests, mammograms aren't perfect so that's why it's so important for women to be breast aware and be vigilant for changes to their breasts," Ms Broun said.

Free mammograms are available through BreastScreen Victoria for women aged 50-69. Women aged 40 to 49 or 70 and older also have free access to the BreastScreen Victoria program should they choose to have mammographic screening.

Mammograms are available by phoning BreastScreen Victoria 13 20 50.

Cancer Council Victoria also encourages men and women to lower their risk of cancer by having a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, being SunSmart, have regular screening, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking.

Information on breast cancer and breast cancer symptoms and for support for those who have been diagnosed, visit www.cancervic.org.au or call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20.

Updated: 18 Oct, 2011