First national report on breast cancer shows incidence on the rise, but deaths steady

Australia's first national report on breast cancer incidence and mortality has been released, providing a picture of breast cancer in Australia, including trends by age, and showing the variations in socioeconomic status, rural vs urban comparisons, and ethnicity.

Breast cancer in Australian women 1921-1994, a report by the NHMRC National Breast Cancer Centre, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the state and territory cancer registries, shows that despite increasing community concern, incidence of breast cancer is not becoming more common in younger women.

'Age is still the greatest determinant of risk, with the rate of increase in new cases much higher in women aged 50 and over,' said Dr Anne Kricker of the National Breast Cancer Centre.

Dr Kricker also noted that although incidence of breast cancer rose by 1.5% a year from 1982 to 1992, mortality was relatively stable at all ages and remained consistently higher in older than younger women.

Other findings of the report include:

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer (apart from melanocytic skin cancer) in Australian women.
  • 1 in 14 women will develop breast cancer before they reach 75 years of age.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer in women.
  • 76-77% of women with breast cancer (based on data from two Australian States) survived more than 5 years after diagnosis. The percentage of women surviving was much greater for those women diagnosed with early stages than for women with cancers that have spread beyond the breast.

The report also showed that women born in the UK and Ireland were at higher risk of death from breast cancer, and women born in eastern Europe, southern Europe and Asia were at lower risk, than women born in Australia.

The report's authors, Dr Anne Kricker, NHMRC National Breast Cancer Centre, and Mr Paul Jelfs, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, are available for comment and can be contacted through their respective organisations.

State and Territory cancer registries have provided the information on which the report is based, and can also be contacted for comment.


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