Breast Cancer Cases Climb, Screening Drop Over Pandemic

Breast Cancer Cases Climb, Screening Drop Over Pandemic
Illustration shows a mammography at the breast clinic of Saint-Jean Clinique in Brussels, Oct. 16 2020. (Benoit Doppagne/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Australian women are being urged to take the health of their breasts seriously as rates of the deadly cancer climb.

The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare estimates about 20,428 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, up from 19,866 two years ago.

An estimated 212 men are expected to be diagnosed with the cancer, too.

As breast cancer awareness month begins, Breastscreen Australia says there was a major drop-off in both screenings and diagnosis over the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 50 percent of eligible women still failing to take up free checks.

About 1.88 million screenings were recorded in 2019-2020, with even fewer over the years of 2021-2022, which had just 1.82 million participants.

Mater breast cancer clinical nurse consultant Ash Mondolo said women need to be screened every two years, even if they don't have a family history of the disease.

"Most women with breast cancer have no family history of it, so screening is absolutely essential for all women aged 50-74," she said.

"Also, mammograms should not hurt, just let the radiographer know if you experience any discomfort."

Rates of the cancer have skyrocketed since 1983 when 5,316 women and 61 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia.

It is the most common cancer globally according to the World Health Organisation, and the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women.

Even though rates of the disease are climbing, more people are now surviving it.

Early detection is thought to be the best prevention, with an almost 100 percent survival rate five years after stage-one detection, which drops to 32 percent for those diagnosed with stage-four cancer.

The overall risk for Australian women is one in seven, and for men, one in 726.

Risk factors include a genetic predisposition to gene mutations like BRCA1 or BRCA2, smoking, eating fatty foods and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

The McGrath Foundation, created by former Australian cricketer Glen McGrath who lost his first wife Jane to the disease, launches its annual fundraising campaign on Sunday.

The foundation is teaming up with online fashion retailer The Iconic and designer Donny Galella, who lost his sister to breast cancer, to launch a pink range, with 10 percent of the profits going towards dedicated McGrath Breast Care Nurses.