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31 March 2017
Breast Cancer  


Breast cancer has been the commonest cancer among females in Hong Kong since the early 1990's. It accounted for 26.6% of all new cancers in females diagnosed in Hong Kong in 2014. Rarely, it may also occur in males. In 2014, there were 15 new cases of breast cancer in males.


In 2014, 3868 new cases of female breast cancer were diagnosed and the crude incidence rate was 99.3 per 100000 female population. The age-standardised incidence rate was 64.6 per 100000 standard population.

Number of new cases and crude incidence rate of malignant neoplasm of breast in female, 1983-2000 (View)

Number of new cases and crude incidence rate of malignant neoplasm of breast in female, 2001-2014 (View)


Breast cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among female in Hong Kong, after lung and colorectal cancers. In 2015, a total of 637 women died from this cancer, accounting for 10.7% of all cancer deaths in females. The crude death rate of breast cancer was 16.2 per 100000 female population. The age-standardised death rate of breast cancer was 9.7 per 100000 standard population. 

Number of registered deaths and crude death rate of malignant neoplasm of breast in female, 1981-2000 (View)

Number of registered deaths and crude death rate of malignant neoplasm of breast in female, 2001-2015 (View)

Trends of incidence and mortality

The age-standardised incidence rate of female breast cancer had an upward trend between 1983 and 2014. However, the age-standardised death rate had no significant trend between 1981 and 2015.

Age-standardised incidence and death rates* of malignant
neoplasm of breast in female, 1981-2015

Age-standardised incidence and death rates of malignant neoplasm of breast in female, 1981-2015



Age-standardised rates are compiled based on the world standard population specified in GPE Discussion Paper Series: No.31, EIP/GPE/EBD, World Health Organization, 2001.



Data in the above charts from 1996 onwards are compiled based on the population estimates under the "resident population" approach instead of the "extended de facto" approach.



Classification of diseases and causes of death is based on the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) 10th Revision from 2001 onwards. Figures from 2001 onwards may not be comparable with figures for previous years which were compiled based on the ICD 9th Revision.



Census and Statistics Department
Department of Health
Hong Kong Cancer Registry, Hospital Authority

Breast cancer corresponds to codes 174-175 in ICD-9 and C50 in ICD-10.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. It occurs in both women and men, although breast cancer in men is rare. Currently, it is the most common cancer among women in Hong Kong.

Who is at risk of breast cancer?

Like other cancers, the risk of developing breast cancer depends on a number of risk factors and varies among individuals. In fact, many of the risk factors for breast cancer are linked to lifestyle habits.

1. Lifestyle risk factors include:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Drinking alcohol (please note that alcohol or alcoholic beverages have been confirmed to be a human cancer-causing agent, causing breast and other cancers)
  • Obesity after menopause

2. Other risk factors include:

  • Advancing age
  • Early menarche ( < 12 years of age) or late menopause ( > 55 years of age)
  • No childbirth, late first live birth (>30 years of age) or no breastfeeding
  • History of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or endometrial cancer
  • History of benign breast conditions (e.g. atypical hyperplasia) or lobular carcinoma in situ
  • Receiving hormonal replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Using combined oral contraceptives
  • History of receiving radiation therapy to the chest before age of 30
  • Carrier of certain gene (e.g. BRCA1 or BRCA2) mutations confirmed by genetic testing
  • Family history of carrier of certain gene (e.g. BRCA1 or BRCA2) mutations
  • Family history of breast cancer, especially for first-degree relatives (e.g. mother, sister or daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer before age of 50

If you have any of the above factors, it does not mean that you must have breast cancer – it only means that your risk of developing breast cancer may be higher than average.

How can I prevent or lower the risks of having breast cancer?

You can prevent or lower the risks of having breast cancer by adopting the following healthy lifestyle habits:

  • Have regular physical activities, do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activities per week (e.g. climbing stairs or brisk walking)
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and waist circumference – aim for a body mass index (BMI)* between 18.5 and 22.9, and a waist circumference of not more than 80cm (about 32 inches) for women
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Have childbirth at an earlier age and breastfeed each child for longer duration

BMI* formula: Weight (kg) / [Height (m)] 2

What are the common symptoms of breast cancer?

The symptoms of breast cancer may not be easily noticed at an early stage. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a breast lump. Any of the following changes in the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer:

  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • A change in skin texture of the breast or nipple (e.g. red, scaly, thickened or “orange-skin” appearance)
  • Rash around the nipple
  • In-drawing of the nipple
  • Discharge from one or both nipples
  • New and persistent discomfort or pain in the breast or armpit
  • A new lump or thickening in the armpit

How can I detect breast cancer early?

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher the chance of cure. Therefore, every woman should be breast aware. You should protect your breast the same way as caring your skin by being aware of any abnormal changes.

In order to spot unusual changes early on, you need to be familiar with the normal look, feel and cyclical changes of your breasts.

If you spot any irregular change in your breasts, you should inform your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will ask you for relevant information and medical history. He/she will perform a physical examination on you and may carry out some other investigations.

What should I consider if I go for a screening test for breast cancer?

The purpose of breast cancer screening is to identify women who have breast cancer before they have any symptoms, in order to offer them earlier treatment.

All screening tests have limitations and are not 100% accurate. There are false positive and false negative results.

Breast cancer screening may find some cancers which will not spread or progress to invasive disease. Treating them may not be better than not treating them. However, doctors usually cannot be sure which one will or will not progress.

When considering breast cancer screening, you should fully understand the potential benefits and risks of having the screening test to make an informed choice.

Related information

The Cancer Expert Working Group on Cancer Prevention and Screening under the Cancer Coordinating Committee provides recommendations on preventive measures and screening of breast cancer based on a systematic review of scientific evidence. To view more information about the recommendations, please click the following link

<Prevention and Screening for Breast Cancer - Information for women and their families> booklet

For further information about women's health, please visit the website of the Family Health Service of the Department of Health.


You can also call our 24-hour Health Education Hotline of the Department of Health 2833 0111 for more health information. Please click here to view the full list of health topics.

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