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One in eight women will get breast cancer, charity says

Posted Mar 22 2011 8:37pm
BBC News
A woman's risk of developing breast cancer has risen to one in eight from one in nine, according to Cancer Research UK.
Mammogram indicating location of breast cancer
Breast cancer rates are rising, figures show, but survival rates are also improving too

The charity's figures show that breast cancer rates in the UK have increased by 3.5% in 10 years, from 42,400 new cases in 1999 to 47,700 in 2008.

Women aged between 50 and 69 have seen the biggest rise in breast cancer rates of 6%.

Exercising and eating healthily can reduce the risk, cancer charities say.

Cancer Research UK figures suggest that breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women, accounting for almost a third of cases.

Bowel cancer is the second most common, followed by lung.

Almost half of breast cancer cases in 2008 (48%) were in women aged between 50 and 69.

A third were in women aged over 70, with 19% in women aged 25-49.

Healthier habits

Previous research has shown that lifestyle factors and a family history of breast cancer increase a woman's risk of developing the disease.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said that small changes in everyday habits can help to reduce cancer risk.

"Cutting back on alcohol by keeping within government recommended limits of no more than 14 units a week (a small drink a day) helps.

"Taking more exercise and eating a diet high in fibre but low in saturated fat can help maintain a healthy weight - which in turn reduces breast cancer risk."


These are indicators only and how they interact is difficult to predict. Women can do all the rights things and still get breast cancer. Likewise, women can do all the wrong things and never get the disease.

Family history: A woman with a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer has around double the risk of getting it herself than a woman with no family history.

Obesity: Being overweight or obese is thought to increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by up to 30%, because excess body fat raises levels of hormones such as oestrogen and insulin - common features of cancers.

Age: the older the woman, the higher her risk. Women aged 50-69 are most at risk, particularly those who have a late menopause.

Childbirth: The younger a woman has children, the lower her risk. Having children at all cuts the risk, as does breastfeeding.

Lifestyle: regular physical exercise and a healthy diet helps reduce the risk by cutting dangerous fatty body tissues. Smoking is not advised.

HRT: women using hormone replacement therapy have a 66% increased risk of breast cancer but the risk is temporary, returning to that of a never-user within five years of stopping.

Oral contraceptives: they increase risk by around a quarter but since users are generally younger women, their risk is relatively low.

Alcohol: drinking as little as one alcoholic drink per day increases breast cancer risk by around 12%

New figures from the World Cancer Research Fund suggest that making these simple changes in lifestyle could result in about 79,000 cases of all kinds of cancer being prevented in the UK each year.

The WCRF says breast cancer cases specifically could be reduced by 42%.

Obesity most likely increases the risk of cancer by raising levels of hormones such as oestrogen and insulin in the body. High levels of these hormones, produced by the fat tissues, are common features of many cancers.

Excess body fat may also affect how the body processes fats and sugars and how the immune system functions.

Almost two out of every three women with breast cancer survive for more than 20 years and more than three-quarters of women with breast cancer survive for at least 10 years, says Cancer Research UK.

Sara Hiom, from Cancer Research UK, urged women to get tested at the earliest possible stage.

"Mammograms will pick up breast cancers early on before they can be felt as a lump or spotted through other visible changes and we know that the earlier a cancer is detected the more successful treatment is likely to be, so women can benefit by taking up invitations to breast screening," she said.

Dr Rachel Greig, senior policy officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said the figures were a wake-up call and should not be ignored.

"More women are developing breast cancer and, although survival is improving thanks to breakthroughs in breast awareness, screening and treatment, we clearly have much further to go.

"A two-pronged attack is needed - commitment to research into the causes of breast cancer, supported by women arming themselves with knowledge of the risks that may contribute to the disease."

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