Over 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK

How many people develop breast cancer?

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the UK.
  • Over 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, including around 4,700 in Scotland.
  • Each year, around 7,400 additional women are diagnosed with an earlier, non-invasive form of breast cancer. These are confined to a specific area of the breast (usually milk ducts) but may later develop the ability to spread.
  • One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
  • Around 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK, including around 30 in Scotland.

What causes breast cancer?

Breast cancer is thought to be caused by a combination of our genes, lifestyle choices and surrounding environment.

There are many things, or factors, that can increase or decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. One of the biggest risk factors is increasing age. At least four out of five breast cancers occur in women over 50.

In a small number of cases, breast cancer runs in the family. Most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease or the faulty genes linked to breast cancer.

You can lower your risk of developing breast cancer by making changes such as drinking less alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and being regularly physically active.

Find out more about the risk factors associated with breast cancer.

Detecting it early

The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of successful treatment.

Women aged 50 and over are entitled to free breast screening (a mammogram). You should get your first appointment between your 50th and 53rd birthdays. You will then receive invitations every three years until you reach 70. After this, you will need to make your own appointments.

Regardless of age it’s important to be breast aware as most breast cancers are found by women noticing unusual changes, taking the initiative and visiting their doctor.

All women should be breast aware and women aged 50 and over are entitled to free breast screening.

Find out more about how to detect breast cancer and what to expect from a visit to a breast clinic.

How to be breast aware

Being breast aware simply means knowing what your breasts look and feel like normally, being on the lookout for any unusual changes and getting them checked out by your doctor.

No one knows your body better than you and everyone will have their own way of touching and looking for changes – there’s no special technique and you don’t need any training.

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and what changes to look out for.

How is it treated?

Most women with breast cancer will have more than one treatment. The choice of treatments – and the order in which they are given – depends on the particular circumstances of the patient and the cancer. Women usually have surgery to remove cancerous tissue from the breast, and also from the armpit if affected.

Afterwards, they often receive additional treatments to reduce the risk of the cancer returning or spreading. These may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy and other drugs.

Find out more about the different treatment options available for breast cancer.

How many people survive breast cancer?

More women than ever are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better screening and better treatments. Around five out of six women diagnosed in the UK today will be alive in five years’ time, compared to three out of six women 40 years ago. However, nearly 1,000 women still die of breast cancer every month in the UK, including around 80 women in Scotland.

Key facts about breast cancer

For a brief summary of information about breast cancer please see our Breast cancer – the key facts.

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Breast Cancer Now’s health information is produced following best practice guidelines developed by the Patient Information Forum. 

Find out more about how we develop our health information and the Patient Information Forum.