Breast Cancer in the UK: Causes, Statistics and Prevention


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the UK. Cancer Research UK reports that invasive breast cancer diagnoses affect around 55,000 women each year in the UK, equating to nearly 150 women receiving a breast cancer diagnosis daily. Breast cancer accounts for 15% of all new cancer cases and tragically, around 11,500 women lose their lives to breast cancer annually in the UK.

The good news is that breast cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years in the UK, thanks to advances in awareness, screening and treatment. Today, around 8 out of 10 women survive breast cancer for 10 years or more. However, there is still more work to be done in preventing and curing this disease. This article will provide an overview of breast cancer statistics in the UK, risk factors and causes, prevention and early detection.

Breast Cancer Statistics in the UK

Some key breast cancer statistics for the UK:

  • 1 in 7 women in the UK will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.
  • By the age of 50, 1 in 42 women will develop breast cancer.

-Breast cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the UK accounting for 7% of all cancer deaths.

  • Incidence rates for breast cancer in the UK are highest in women aged 50-69.
  • Survival rates have improved – today around 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for five years or more.
  • In females, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, accounting for 31% of all new cancer cases.

These statistics show just how prevalent breast cancer is among the female population in the UK. While great strides have been made in improving outcomes, continuing research and awareness are critical to further reducing breast cancer cases and mortality.

Causes and Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

The exact causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. However, we do know that there are certain risk factors that can increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer:

  • Age – Risk increases as a woman gets older. Most cases develop in women over 50.
  • Genetics – Having close relatives with breast cancer can raise risk. Inherited faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase risk significantly.
  • Reproductive history – Early menstrual periods before age 12, late menopause after 55, not having children or having them after 30 raise risk.
  • Previous breast conditions – Abnormal cells (atypia) or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) can become cancerous.
  • Radiation exposure – Past chest radiation therapy for cancers like lymphoma can increase risk.
  • Hormone therapy – Combination estrogen-progesterone HRT for over 5 years elevates risk.
  • Obesity and alcohol – Post-menopausal obesity and regular heavy drinking are linked to higher risk.
  • Smoking – While not a direct cause, smoking has been associated with a small increase in risk.

Knowing the various risk factors allows women to make lifestyle changes to help reduce their chance of developing breast cancer. Genetic testing for BRCA1/2 mutations can also help assess risk.

Early Detection and Prevention

Early detection of breast cancer greatly improves survival chances. All women should practice breast awareness – know what is normal for their breasts and report any new or unusual changes to their GP.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites all women aged 50-71 for free mammogram screenings every 3 years. This has helped detect cancers at an early stage. However, mammograms don’t detect every cancer, so women should stay vigilant about checking their breasts and report any concerns promptly.

There are also steps all women can take to lower their risk of developing breast cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, limit alcohol intake.
  • Consider preventive therapy if at high genetic risk. Tamoxifen or raloxifene can reduce risk.
  • Breastfeed infants if possible – this reduces risk slightly.
  • Limit HRT use – take lowest effective dose for shortest time.

While we cannot eliminate the chance of breast cancer, focusing on early detection and healthy lifestyle provides the best opportunity for positive outcomes. Continued awareness and fundraising remains critical to improve research and care.


This remains a major public health concern affecting 1 in 7 UK women. Greater awareness, screening programmes and improved treatments have led to earlier diagnosis and better survival rates. However, ongoing vigilance about new or unusual breast changes, receiving regular mammograms from 50-71, and minimizing risk factors are key for prevention and early detection. With increased research and public consciousness, we can work together to further reduce cancer incidence and mortality among UK women.

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