About breast cancer

What is the incidence of breast cancer?

In 2008 there were 47,693 new registrations of breast cancer in women in the UK, and 341 in men1.

Estimated risk at birth up to and including: UK (2008)
age 29 1 in 2,000
age 39 1 in 215
age 49 1 in 50
age 59 1 in 22
age 69 1 in 13
Life time risk 1 in 8

How does age affect incidence rates of breast cancer?

The incidence of breast cancer increases with age. Eighty per cent of cases occur in post-menopausal women. The risk of developing breast cancer continues to rise as women get older.

Breast cancer is extremely rare in women in their teens or early twenties and uncommon in women under 35. After this age the risk begins to increase, rising sharply after the menopause.

What is the worldwide picture?

In 2008 it was estimated that worldwide, 1.38 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer, accounting for around a tenth (10.9 per cent) of all new cancers and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of all female cancer cases. Female breast cancer incidence rates vary considerably, with the highest rates in Europe and the lowest rates in Africa and Asia2.

How many people die from breast cancer in the UK?

12,047 women and 69 men died from breast cancer in 20081.

What are the survival rates in England?

The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed 2001-2006 in England (period estimates) was 82 per cent3.

The stage at which a woman has breast cancer diagnosed greatly influences her survival chances. In general, the earlier the detection, the greater the chance of survival.

What are the causes of breast cancer?

It is not clear exactly what causes breast cancer but it is thought that there are many risk factors, some already well established and some still being investigated. Age is strongly linked with breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Two breast cancer genes have been identified; BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes have been found in approximately 85 per cent of families with four or more cases of breast cancer diagnosed under the age of 60. However, only about five per cent of all breast cancer cases (fewer than 2000 per year) are thought to be caused by breast cancer genes. This was the subject of the MARIBS trial.

There is a higher risk of breast cancer in the south of England and in Wales than in the north of the UK. The risk of breast cancer also appears to be higher in women from more affluent backgrounds. There is an increase in risk when people move from low risk to high risk countries. For example, Japanese immigrants to the USA increase their risk of breast cancer and acquire incidence rates similar to the American population within two generations. This suggests that risk may be linked to environmental and behavioural factors.

What are the risk factors?

Known risk factors for breast cancer are:

  • being female
  • increasing age
  • previous history of breast cancer
  • having proven benign breast disease in the past
  • not breastfeeding long term
  • current use of hormone replacement therapy
  • having a family history of breast cancer
  • having no children or few children
  • having children at late ages (especially over 30)
  • early puberty
  • having a later menopause
  • obesity (for post-menopausal women only)
  • high consumption of alcohol

For more details about the risk factors see Cancer Research UK.

[1] Cancer Research UK 2011
[2] Globocan 2008
[3] Cancer Research UK 2010