Several long-term studies of breast cancer survival have shown continued excess mortality from breast cancer up to 20-40 years following treatment. The purpose of this report was to investigate temporal trends in long-term survival from breast cancer in all New South Wales (NSW) women. Breast cancer cases incident in 1972-1996 (54,228) were derived from the NSW Central Cancer Registry - a population-based registry which began in 1972. All cases of breast cancer not known to be dead were matched against death records. The expected survival for NSW women was derived from published annual life tables. Relative survival analysis compared the survival of cancer cases with the age, sex and period matched mortality of the total population. Cases were considered alive at the end of 1996, except when known to be dead. Proportional hazards regression was employed to model survival on age, period and degree of spread at diagnosis. Survival at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years of follow-up was 76 per cent, 65 per cent, 60 per cent, 57 per cent and 56 per cent. The annual hazard rate for excess mortality was 4.3 per cent in year 1, maximal at 6.5 per cent in year 3, declining to 4.7 per cent in year 5, 2.7 per cent in year 10, 1.4 per cent in year 15, 1.0 per cent for years 16-20, and 0.4 per cent for years 20-25 of follow-up. Relative survival was highest in 40-49 year-olds. Cases diagnosed most recently (1992-1996) had the highest survival, compared with cases diagnosed in previous periods. Five-year survival improved over time, especially from the late 1980s for women in the screening age group (50-69 years). Survival was highest for those with localised cancer at diagnosis: 88.4 per cent, 79.1 per cent, 74.6 per cent, 72.7 per cent and 72.8 per cent at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years follow-up (excluding those aged≥70 years). There was no significant difference between the survival of the breast cancer cases and the general population at 20-25 years follow-up. Degree of spread was less predictive of survival 5-20 years after diagnosis, compared with 0-5 years after diagnosis, and was not significant at 20-25 years of follow-up. Relative survival from breast cancer in NSW women continues to decrease to 25 years after diagnosis, but there is little excess mortality after 15 years follow-up, especially for those with localised cancer at diagnosis, and the minimal excess mortality at 20-25 years of follow-up is not statistically significant. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.