Australian pop star Kylie Minogue has revealed that she has breast cancer.

The disease was diagnosed at an early stage and the 36-year-old singer will start treatment immediately, according to a statement by the Frontier Touring Company, promoter of Minogue's now-postponed Showgirl tour.

In the statement, Minogue says she is "sorry to have to disappoint my fans. Nevertheless, hopefully all will work out fine and I'll be back with you all again soon."

Details about Minogue's cancer and treatment have not been made public. However, early diagnosis often brings the best chances of recovery for cancer.

With screening programs becoming more common, more breast cancers are being diagnosed at earlier stages, says the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Diagnosis at an early stage makes these cancers more easily and successfully treated.

Cases Relatively Rare in Younger Women

Breast cancer can strike women of any age. However, it is mainly seen in older women. In 2003, less than 5 percent of all breast cancer cases occurred in women under age 40, says the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's web site, citing American Cancer Society (ACS) statistics.

Age is an established risk factor for breast cancer. Older women have a higher risk of developing the disease. In general, rates of breast cancer are low in women under age 40, begin to increase after age 40, and are highest in women over age 70, says the Komen Foundation.

"The chance of getting breast cancer goes up as a woman gets older," says the ACS' web site. "Nearly eight out of 10 breast cancers are found in women over age 50."

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women (except for skin cancer), says the ACS. It's also women's No. 2 cause of cancer death, second only to lung cancer.

The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is about one in seven; her odds of dying from breast cancer are about one in 33. The death rate is dropping, probably due to early detection and advances in treatments, says the ACS.

Risk Factors

No information is available on Minogue's risk factors, family medical history, or breast cancer screening. The singer, whose hits include 2001's Can't Get You Out of My Head, is white. Race may play a role in breast cancer, but the specifics aren't known.

In the U.S., white women have higher rates of developing breast cancer. However, among women under the age of 35, black women have a higher rate of developing breast cancer than white women.

Black women are also more likely to die of breast cancer, have more aggressive tumors, and be diagnosed at a later stage, says the ACS. For example, the five-year survival rate for black women is 74 percent compared with 88 percent for white women, says the Komen Foundation. The five-year survival rate for Native American women is lower than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S., it says.

Early Detection Saves Lives

Young women who are not considered to be at high risk may not require mammograms, but women of any age should not hesitate to contact their doctors with any questions about their breast health or about any lumps or changes in their breasts.

Breast examinations are recommended for all women beginning at the age of 20, and thereafter, every three years, or every year if you are age 40 or over, says the Komen Foundation.

"If you are under age 40 with a family history or other risk factors, you should talk with your health care provider about risk assessment, when to start getting mammograms, and how often to have them," says the foundation. "If done regularly, these exams can help to detect any problems early and may increase the chances of survival."

Because young women's breast tissue may be dense, mammography may be supplemented by other imaging techniques such as ultrasound.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: The Frontier Touring Company. Reuters. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation: "Facts For Life: Young Women & Breast Cancer." American Cancer Society: "How Many Women Get Breast Cancer?" American Cancer Society: "Accounting For Racial Breast Cancer Differences."