Breast cancer facts and statistics
Breast Cancer facts and statistics along with general information about breast cancer and secondary breast cancer.
We strongly encourage all women and men to be breast aware and follow the 5 point plan. Remember, if you notice anything unusual or you become worried, go to your GP.
All our information is taken from reliable and up to date sources and content is regularly reviewed.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when breast cells divide in an uncontrolled manner. It’s not a single disease; there are many subtypes of breast cancer, each with slightly different characteristics. Most breast cancers (80%) develop in the milk ducts and 10-15% develop in the breast lobules. It can either be invasive or non-invasive (in situ). Left untreated, breast cancer cells may spread and establish secondary breast cancer tumours (made up of breast cells) in other parts of the body.
General statistics for the UK
- Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer with a lifetime risk for women of 1 in 7
- Breast cancer is more common in women over the age of 50, with 8 out of 10 newly diagnosed cases falling into this age category
- Around 390 men are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year
- Over 95% of people diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer (small tumours in the breast, stage 1) survive for at least 5 years
- Around 25% of people diagnosed with advanced breast cancer (when secondary spread is detected in other parts of the body, stage 4) survive for at least 5 years
- 23% of breast cancer cases are estimated to be preventable through lifestyle changes (e.g. moderate alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising)
- Almost 1000 people a month lose their lives to breast cancer
On average in the UK each year;
- Over 55,000 new invasive cases and over 8000 in situ cases are diagnosed
- 80% of new breast cancer diagnoses are in women over 50 years of age
- Around one man a day is diagnosed with breast cancer
- Breast cancer is the main cause of death in women aged 35-49 years and 1 in 7 women will develop the disease in their lifetime
The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year is increasing, which may be due to improved screening programs.
Breast x-rays (mammograms) are used to screen for breast cancer in women over the age of 50.
Mammograms are offered to;
- All women aged 50-70 every three years
- Women over 71 on request
- Women with a family history of breast cancer and at high risk, from age 40 annually
A clinical trial (AgeX) in England is looking at the effectiveness of additional screening in women aged 47-49 and 71-73.
In women below the age of 40, breast tissue is usually too dense for accurate screening using a mammogram. An MRI scan can be offered instead to women with gene mutations known to increase breast cancer risk;
- for women with a TP53 mutation, annual scans from age 20
- for women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, annual scans from age 30
Being breast aware means getting to know your breasts; how they look and what they normally feel like. For information on the symptoms of primary breast cancer to look out for and to watch our video on how to perform a self-examination.
Reducing your risk
In the UK, 23% of breast cancers are thought to be preventable through lifestyle choices.
To reduce the risk of cancer, The World Cancer Research Fund recommend:
- Be a healthy weight
- Be physically active
- Enjoy more wholegrains, veg, fruit and beans
- Limit fast foods
- Limit red meat and processed meat
- Limit sugar sweetened drinks
- Limit alcohol intake
Additional recommendations are:
- Breastfeed your baby if possible
- Do not use dietary supplements as a substitute for a good diet for cancer prevention
It’s recommended that these same guidelines are followed after a cancer diagnosis to reduce the risk of recurrence and secondary cancer unless advised otherwise by a medical team.
Recurrence means a repeat breast cancer diagnosis. It can occur because some of the cancerous cells remained after treatment. Breast cancer recurrence is termed:
- local (at same site as before)
- regional/locally advanced (close to the original site)
- advanced (in other parts of the body, also called secondary breast cancer).
Doctors can’t be sure that all the cancer cells have completely gone after initial treatment and they may prescribe ongoing preventative treatment to try to stop the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant therapy. All people who have had breast cancer should be monitored for recurrence with an annual mammogram for at least five years after treatment.
Secondary breast cancer is also called metastatic, advanced or stage 4 breast cancer. It is the main cause of all breast cancer-related deaths.
Breast cancer cells from the initial tumour can be carried in the blood and lymphatic system to other areas of the body where they may grow into secondary breast cancer tumours. The bones, liver, lungs and brain are the most common sites of secondary tumours. Cancer spread can be tested for using a variety of scans such as MRI, ultrasound or CT scans or biopsies.
Symptoms of secondary breast cancer vary, depending on where in the body the secondary tumours are growing. In the UK, 6-7% of people find out that they have secondary breast cancer at their first breast cancer diagnosis.
There is currently no cure for secondary breast cancer, and treatment is given to manage the symptoms. Treatment will depend on the type of breast cancer and any previous treatment received.
Infographics describing some of the symptoms of secondary breast cancer can be found here.
(Reviewed October 2020)