On an average day in 2006, 35 Australian women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and 7 women died from this disease. These and other data in this report show that breast cancer continues to be a major health problem for Australian women, their families, the health system and society as a whole.

Breast cancer in Australia: an overview, 2009 provides a comprehensive picture of national statistics on breast cancer for both females and males using a range of data sources. The latest available data and trends over time are examined in this report. As well, differences by geographical area, socioeconomic status, Indigenous status and country of birth are discussed.

Breast cancer is a major cause of illness for Australian women

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (excluding 2 types of non-reportable skin cancer), representing over a quarter (28%) of all reported cancer cases in women in 2006. A total of 12,614 invasive breast cancer cases were diagnosed in women that year, the largest number recorded to date. More than two-thirds (69%) of these cases were in women aged 40 to 69 years. In the same year, 102 cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in men, accounting for 0.8% of breast cancer cases.

While breast cancer is the most commonly reported cancer in Indigenous women in the four jurisdictions for which data were available, Indigenous women were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than non-Indigenous women in 2002 to 2006 (69 and 103 new cases per 100,000 women, respectively).

Breast cancer was the sixth leading cause of burden of disease for women in 2003 and it accounted for 7% of all years of life lost due to premature mortality.

There were 1,558 cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive tumour of the breast) diagnosed in women in 2005.

Breast cancer mortality is decreasing and survival is improving

A total of 2,618 women died from breast cancer in 2006, making it the second most common cause of cancer-related death for Australian women after lung cancer (2,683 deaths). However, breast cancer mortality rates have been decreasing since 1994. In 2006, there were 22 breast cancer deaths per 100,000 women, the lowest recorded rate in the period considered (1982 to 2006).

Outcomes for women diagnosed with breast cancer have improved significantly. Overall, 5year relative survival was 88% for women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 to 2006 compared with 73% for women diagnosed in 1982 to 1987.

In the 2002 to 2006 period, 5-year crude survival for Indigenous women diagnosed with breast cancer in four jurisdictions was significantly lower than for non-Indigenous women (65% and 82% crude survival, respectively), but mortality rates did not differ significantly.

The number of screening mammograms and hospitalisations has increased

The number of women who had a screening mammogram through the BreastScreen Australia Program increased by 31% between 1996-1997 and 2005-2006.

In 2007-08, 2.6% of all hospitalisations of women were due to breast cancer. This comprised just over 106,000 hospitalisations, which was 74% higher than the 1999-00 figure.

Health expenditure on breast cancer for females grew by 32%, from $252 million in 2000-01 to $331 million in 2004-05 (with prices adjusted for inflation).

The future

Due to ageing of the population, the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer is expected to continue to increase. Projections suggest that in 2015, the number of new breast cancer cases diagnosed in Australian women will be approximately 15,400, which is 22% more than the number diagnosed in 2006. This would equate to 42 women being diagnosed with breast cancer every day in 2015.