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Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women after non-malignant skin cancer. Although it can occur at any age it is more common in older women. In most cases the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated the better the outcome.

Cancer Council recommends:

  • all women, regardless of age, be ‘breast aware’ by familiarising themselves with the normal look and feel of their breasts
  • women aged 50-74 have a free screening mammogram every two years through BreastScreen Australia
  • see a doctor as soon as possible if any breast changes are noticed.


Common ways to find breast cancer early in women without breast symptoms include:

  • breast awareness
  • physical breast examination by a health professional
  • screening mammography (breast x-ray)

Every woman should look at and feel her breasts regularly. It is important to know what is normal for you and to see your doctor if you notice any unusual changes or have any concerns.

What are the breast cancer symptoms I need to look out for?

Women of all ages should be familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. If you notice any of the following changes, please see your doctor immediately:

  • a lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast
  • changes in the skin of a breast, such as puckering, dimpling or a rash
  • persistent or unusual breast pain
  • a change in the shape or size of a breast
  • discharge from a nipple, a nipple rash or a change in its shape

Mammograms are low dose x-rays of a woman’s breasts. Screening mammograms are performed on women without any symptoms or breast changes.

Screening mammograms are currently the best method available for detecting breast cancer early but they do not cure or prevent breast cancer from developing in the future.

If you are aged 50–74, have a mammogram (breast x-ray) at BreastScreen SA every two years. (Women from 40 are also eligible to attend.)

Even if you’re having regular mammograms, you still need to be aware of any changes in your breasts.

Breast cancer is a common disease in Australian women. By chance, some women will have a relative who has had breast cancer. However, fewer than five per cent of all breast cancers are associated with a family history. If you are concerned about your risk, speak to your doctor.

BreastScreen SA—find out more about mammograms, clinic locations

Breast Screen Australia Program—more information about the national program

Cancer Australia—provides comprehensive information about all aspects of breast cancer

Breast cancer risk factors – More information about the risk factors and protective factors for breast cancer

The early detection of breast cancer: screening mammograms—Cancer Council Australia fact sheet

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) and Cancer—DES was taken by some women from the 1950s to the 1970s  to try and prevent miscarriage and other pregnancy complications.  Although the majority of persons exposed to DES—during pregnancy or in utero, will not experience any negative health effects, available research findings indicate that exposure to DES increases the risk of some health problems including some cancers.

This webpage was last reviewed and updated in January 2021.