Breast Health

Family Health Diary

Breast Cancer Facts

Each year:

  • More than 3000 New Zealand women are diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Over 600 women die from breast cancer
  • 1 in 9 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime
  • Breast cancer occurs mostly in women aged between 50 and 64
  • Men get breast cancer too.

If breast cancer is detected by mammogram, the 10 year survival rate is 92%.

What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when breast cells change and start growing out of control.

There are different types of breast cancer depending on which kind of breast cell is affected. Some breast cancers grow very slowly and others more quickly.

Survival is dependent on age, on early diagnosis and on the aggressiveness of the cancer cell.

What Causes Breast Cancer?
Anyone can get breast cancer. Breast cancer risk factors include:

  • Gender – being a woman is the highest risk factor
  • Age – your risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older.
  • Family History – If your mother, sister or grandmother has or has had breast cancer, especially before menopause, then you have a higher risk of getting it yourself. Between 5 and 10% of breast cancers can be explained by family history. Most women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease so be breast aware even if no one in your family has had breast cancer.
  • Your hormone history – Research shows there is a link between oestrogen and breast cancer.  Women who have more of the female hormone oestrogen in their bodies for a long time may have more risk of getting breast cancer. Higher levels of oestrogen may be caused by:

– Getting your first period before 12 years of age
– Having your first child after age 35
– Having few or no pregnancies
– Breastfeeding for only a short time or not at all
– Starting menopause after age 55.

Using Hormone Replacement Therapy* may increase your risk of getting breast cancer and especially if it is used for a year or more. Discuss with your doctor the benefits of using HRT versus your individual risk of breast cancer.

(*Hormone Replacement Therapy helps to relieve the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes and sleep disturbances.)

Lifestyle factors may also increase your chances of getting breast cancer. These include:

  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Being inactive
  • Drinking more than one glass of wine or other alcoholic drink per day
  • Stress and smoking.

Prevention and Treatment
The earlier a breast cancer is found the better a woman’s chances of survival.
Early detection saves breasts and lives.

1. Have regular mammograms
A mammogram is an x-ray of a breast to look for cancers when they are very small and unable to be felt as a lump.

A screening mammogram screens or checks the breasts of well women for any signs of change or cancer.

Sometimes a mammogram includes an ultrasound examination which increases the accuracy of the result.

A diagnostic mammogram is done when a woman has a lump or has noticed a change in her breast and is used to help a doctor diagnose what is wrong.

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation recommends a screening mammogram for women as follows:

  • 40-49 years every year
  • 50 years onwards every two years

2. Enrol in the National Screening Programme
BreastScreen Aotearoa provides free screening mammograms to women aged between 45 and 69 every two years. To enrol in this programme phone 0800 270 200.

3. Know your Breasts
Do regular breast checks, know what is normal for you – how your breasts usually look and feel. Your breasts do not always stay the same – pregnancy, weight changes and age can all alter their shape and size. Some women find that their breasts feel different around the time of their period – they may feel lumpy or tender before their period but this disappears after the period ends.

Know what changes to look and feel for especially:

  • A new lump or thickening
  • A change in breast shape or size
  • Puckering, dimpling or a change in colour of the skin
  • Any change in a nipple such as a discharge, bleeding, or a nipple that starts to turn inwards.

4. If you notice any change in your breasts see your doctor
See a doctor who will examine your breasts and check your general health. In addition to having a mammogram your doctor may suggest an ultrasound.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

  • Be physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains and limit fats especially saturated and trans fats
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one alcoholic drink per day
  • Don’t smoke.

For more information on Breast Health visit

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