Australian women’s awareness of breast cancer symptoms and responses to potential symptoms



Poor awareness of breast cancer symptoms has been associated with patient delay in seeking help; thus reduced survival, more aggressive treatment, and fewer treatment choices. The aim of this study was to develop a representative picture of Australian women’s knowledge of symptoms, experienced potential symptoms, and behavioral responses.


A general population sample of approximately 3,000 women aged 30–69 completed a telephone survey; results were compared to previous surveys conducted in 1996 and 2003.


The most commonly cited potential symptom of breast cancer was a lump in the breast, identified by 86% of respondents (an increase from 75% in 2003). Other commonly mentioned symptoms were discharge from the nipple, pain/soreness, skin puckering, or dimpling; and a change in breast shape. The proportion unable to name any potential symptoms of breast cancer decreased from one in ten in 2003 to approximately one in twenty in 2007. The primary reason for not seeking medical advice in response to a potential symptom was the belief that breast cancer was not present.


Health promotion efforts need to continue to aim at increasing community understanding of potential breast cancer symptoms and encouraging women to act on potential symptoms by seeking medical advice.

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  1. 1.

    In February 2008, National Breast Cancer Centre (NBCC) changed its name to National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC).

  2. 2.

    The weight used for the ith respondent to the survey was \( w_{i} = {\frac{{N_{a}}}{N}}\,{\frac{n}{{n_{a}}}} \), where a denotes the weighting class, and N and n denote the relevant population benchmarks and sample sizes, respectively.

  3. 3.

    It is important to note that respondents were not asked the date they experienced the symptom, so this will include those whose symptom was first noticed weeks or days prior to completing the survey.


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This research was funded by the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (Australia).

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Correspondence to Sandra C. Jones.

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Jones, S.C., Gregory, P., Nehill, C. et al. Australian women’s awareness of breast cancer symptoms and responses to potential symptoms. Cancer Causes Control 21, 945–958 (2010).

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  • Australia
  • Breast cancer
  • Symptoms
  • Help-seeking
  • Perceptions