Background Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting females worldwide. Breast cancer survivability prediction is challenging and a complex research task. Existing approaches engage statistical methods or supervised machine learning to assess/predict the survival prospects of patients. Objective The main objectives of this paper is to develop a robust data analytical model which can assist in (i) a better understanding of breast cancer survivability in presence of missing data, (ii) providing better insights into factors associated with patient survivability, and (iii) establishing cohorts of patients that share similar properties. Methods Unsupervised data mining methods viz. the self-organising map (SOM) and density-based spatial clustering of applications with noise (DBSCAN) is used to create patient cohort clusters. These clusters, with associated patterns, were used to train multilayer perceptron (MLP) model for improved patient survivability analysis. A large dataset available from SEER program is used in this study to identify patterns associated with the survivability of breast cancer patients. Information gain was computed for the purpose of variable selection. All of these methods are data-driven and require little (if any) input from users or experts. Results SOM consolidated patients into cohorts of patients with similar properties. From this, DBSCAN identified and extracted nine cohorts (clusters). It is found that patients in each of the nine clusters have different survivability time. The separation of patients into clusters improved the overall survival prediction accuracy based on MLP and revealed intricate conditions that affect the accuracy of a prediction. Conclusions A new, entirely data driven approach based on unsupervised learning methods improves understanding and helps identify patterns associated with the survivability of patient. The results of the analysis can be used to segment the historical patient data into clusters or subsets, which share common variable values and survivability. The survivability prediction accuracy of a MLP is improved by using identified patient cohorts as opposed to using raw historical data. Analysis of variable values in each cohort provide better insights into survivability of a particular subgroup of breast cancer patients.