MOTHERS are being urged to teach children as young as 10 how to detect breast cancer, after a new survey found early discussions can increase awareness of the risks of the disease by 10 per cent.

McGrath Foundation research, released today, will show that women who discussed breast health and puberty with their mothers were significantly more likely to meet the charity's criteria as a "breastpert" - 26 per cent, compared to 16 per cent who didn't discuss the issues.

The survey of 1288 Australians found 48 per cent of women with daughters aged 10 or above have had a conversation about breast health with their children, while just 22 per cent of women had the same conversation with their own mother.

McGrath Foundation mission programmes director Jane Mahony said this suggested an encouraging "generational shift" in the willingness of women to have this sometimes tricky conversation.

More than 71 per cent of respondents said between the ages of 10 and 15 was the best time to discuss breast awareness with children, while 85 per cent said discussing puberty was appropriate between the ages of eight and 13.

Emma Scrimshaw, 32, had a lump removed from her breast when she was 20.
Emma Scrimshaw, 32, had a lump removed from her breast when she was 20. Annette Dew

The survey found 78 per cent of Queensland women considered themselves to be aware of breast health, but only 14 per cent of respondents actually qualified as a "breastpert", according to the McGrath Foundation's criteria, which covers awareness, self-confidence, behaviour and knowledge.

Meanwhile, a survey by charity Pink Hope, also released today, found 83 per cent of Australians were unaware that dense breast tissue increased by four or five times the chances of contracting breast cancer.

Pink Hope founder Krystal Barter said the survey of 1010 women showed personalised screening was needed for women with dense breast tissue.

"A one-size-fits-all approach isn't the future," she said.

Emma Scrimshaw, of Gaythorne, has a long family history of breast cancer. Her mother, aunty and grandmother have all battled the disease, and the 32-year-old carries the BRCA2 genetic mutation.

When she was 20 years old, Ms Scrimshaw underwent two operations to remove a lump from her breast that doctors said was likely to turn into cancer if not removed.

"Know your own body," she said. "Understand what your history is, and if anything changes for you, make sure you do go and get that checked out."

Australasian Society of Breast Physicians past president Deborah Pfeiffer said mothers should start talking to their daughters about their breasts as soon as they start developing.

Although breast cancer in women under 20 is rare, Dr Pfeiffer said: "The more a mother and daughter talk about things openly, the less likely it is to be a secret, the less likely it is to be hidden, and the less likely something serious is likely to be if left untreated."