Breast cancer rates up, but survival improving

While the incidence of breast cancer continues to rise, more Australian women are surviving the disease than ever before, according to the latest national report on breast cancer released today by the National Breast Cancer Centre (NBCC) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Breast cancer in Australia: an overview, 2006, was launched today by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, at the National Breast Cancer Centre's Pink Ribbon Breakfast in Sydney.

It brings together the most recent statistics available on breast cancer in Australia for both women and men. It provides for the first time information about the number of people living in Australia after a diagnosis of breast cancer - with 113,801 women and 730 men alive who have been diagnosed in the past 20 years.

Mr John Harding, Head of the AIHW Cancer Monitoring Unit, said, 'The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer has more than doubled in the past 20 years - increasing from 5,318 women in 1983 to 12,027 women in 2002.'

It is estimated that 13,261 women and about 100 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia this year.

The risk of a diagnosis by age 85 years has increased to one in eight for women, up from one in 12 in 1983, while the risk for a male is one in 763. However, the good news is a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer before the age of 75 years has been declining, from a one in 43 risk in 1983 to a one in 56 risk in 2004.

Dr Helen Zorbas, Director of the National Breast Cancer Centre said, 'Significant advances in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer mean more women are surviving the disease than ever before. Importantly this improvement shows little sign of abating.

'Overall 86 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer today can expect to be living five years after their diagnosis. In the period 1982-1986 only 71 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer could expect to live five years after their diagnosis.

'The significant improvement in survival rates means our next challenge is to ensure we expand our focus to include life beyond breast cancer or 'survivorship'.

'Many breast cancer survivors experience high levels of stress and anxiety associated with the fear that cancer may return. Survivors can also experience a range of problems about body image after surgery, loss of fertility for younger women, fatigue, financial, work and relationship issues. These issues traditionally coincide with a time when there is reduced contact with the health care team.'

'For many women, life beyond breast cancer is about re-defining a sense of normality,' said Dr Zorbas.

The National Breast Cancer Centre is funded by the Australian Government and works with consumers, health professionals, cancer organisations, researchers and governments to improve health outcomes in breast and ovarian cancer.


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