A billboard campaign claiming breast cancer is "not a big deal" is dismissive, offensive and belittling, say support groups and a survivor of the disease.

The Breast Cancer Research Trust ads have gone up on about 50 billboards in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch this week.

Breast Cancer Foundation spokeswoman Suzanne McNicol said they belittled sufferers and survivors.

"We were contacted by the Breast Cancer Research Trust an hour before the billboards went up on Monday. We voiced our concerns about them... we do not endorse them at all," she said. "Our position is that breast cancer is a huge deal - certainly for the 2400 women diagnosed every year in New Zealand. Breast cancer is life and death for woman who have the disease and survivors, I am sure, do not want to have their experience belittled."

Breast Cancer Research Trustee and surgeon John Harman said the ads were the first of a three-part campaign and the true message would be revealed next month.

"It's not quite what it seems. We don't want people to be offended by it, but we do want people to be concerned."

People who called the trust's 0800 number were being asked to be patient as the campaign unfolded, said Harman. "We have a pretty high incidence of breast cancer - the third highest in the world - and a high death rate, higher than Australia. What we are trying to do is raise awareness about these issues, and get fund-raising for three major research projects."

Saatchi & Saatchi created the campaign and the billboard owners donated the space.

The Advertising Standards Authority has received several complaints and breast cancer survivor Brenna Nation, 26, said the ads could offend sufferers. Nation, who had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction after surgery and chemotherapy thought the ads dismissed the disease she fought hard to beat.

"Because I did survive it wasn't a big deal for me, I guess, but what about those people who aren't surviving?" she said. "They will probably find it really offensive."

But the mother-of-two could see a positive side to the billboards.

"I guess in a way it's saying it's easy to do something about it, it's not embarrassing.

"It depends on how you interpret it."