Let’s talk about Breast Cancer


The Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked in countries across the world every October, helps to increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women both in the developed and less developed world. It is estimated that worldwide over 508 000 women died in 2011 due to breast cancer (Global Health Estimates, WHO 2013). Although breast cancer is thought to be a disease of the developed world, almost 50% of breast cancer cases and 58% of deaths occur in less developed countries (GLOBOCAN 2008).

Key message

Breast cancer is the top cancer in women worldwide and is increasing particularly in developing countries where the majority of cases are diagnosed in late stages.

 Let’s look at the Numbers

The most common breast cancer statistic you have probably heard is that “1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.” What it should really read is “If everyone lived beyond the age of 70, 1 in 8 of those women would get or have had breast cancer.” This statistic is based on everyone in the population living beyond the age of 70. Since your breast cancer risk increases as you age, your lifetime risk changes depending on your age:

Age 20-29: 1 in 2,000
Age 30-39: 1 in 229
Age 40-49: 1 in 68
Age 50-59: 1 in 37
Age 60-69: 1 in 26
Ever: 1 in 8
Source: American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, 2005-2006.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Breast cancer doesn’t have just one cause. It is a complex disease resulting from interactions between our genes, lifestyle and the environment.

Understanding breast cancer risk

Anything that increases a person’s chances of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Having many risk factors does not mean you will develop breast cancer, whilst having fewer risk factors will not definitely prevent the disease.



What can I do?

We can’t control some breast cancer risk factors e.g. gender and age. But there are risk factors you can influence such as lifestyle choices, as well as being breast aware, and attending routine screening appointments when invited to do so.

Established risks

There is strong scientific evidence that these factors can increase your risk of developing breast cancer:

Being female

  • Over 99 per cent of cases per year are in women.


  • Over 80 per cent of breast cancer is diagnosed in women over the age of 50.

Family history

  • A significant family history of breast cancer.

Breast density

  • Having high breast density increases your risk of breast cancer.

Lifestyle factors

  • Alcohol
    • Being overweight
    • Not exercising.

Not having children

  • Not having children or having them after 30
    • Not breast feeding.

Additional female hormone exposure

  • Taking the contraceptive pill
    • Having hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
    • Starting the menopause late and/or early periods.

Radiation exposure

  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment.

Other established risks

  • A previous breast cancer diagnosis
    • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
    • Some non-cancerous breast diseases
    • Ethnic group
    • Being taller.

Possible risks

Factors that might affect your breast cancer risk, but for which there is no conclusive scientific evidence:

  • Diet
  • Diabetes
  • Diethylstilboestrol (DES)
  • Night shift work
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Having uneven breasts

Doubtful risks

Factors that are not thought to affect your breast cancer risk:

  • Deodorants and anti-perspirants
    • Having an abortion
    • Breast implants
    • Injury to the breast
    • Pesticides or other pollutants


Read about :

Top tips for breast cancer prevention




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