What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

There are many different signs and symptoms of breast cancer, so regularly checking your breasts for anything different or new is important. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of successful treatment. Getting to know what your breasts look and feel like normally means it’s easier to spot any unusual changes and check them with your doctor. 

Common breast cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • A lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit. You might feel the lump, but not see it.
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • A change in skin texture i.e. puckering or dimpling of the skin
  • A change in the colour of the breast - the breast may look red or inflamed
  • Rash, crusting or changes to the nipple
  • Any unusual discharge from either nipple

Research led by Breast Cancer Now in 2018 found that less than half (48%) of British women surveyed were regularly checking their breasts for signs of breast cancer, while almost one in ten (8%) had never checked at all. The most common reasons women cited for not checking their breasts regularly were because they forget (41%) and 21% said they didn’t check their breasts regularly because they don’t feel confident in checking. 

Checking your breasts only takes a few minutes. Everyone will have their own way of touching and looking for changes, but remember to check the whole breast area, including your upper chest and armpits. There’s no special technique and you don’t need training. Find out more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

What can cause breast cancer?

There are many different factors that can affect your chances of developing breast cancer. There’s no one single reason – it results from a combination of the way we live our lives, our genes and our surrounding environment.

What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?
Everyone can take steps to lower their chances of getting breast cancer by making small healthy changes and living well now, including drinking less alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping physically active.

What breast cancer risk factors can’t I change?

Some factors are outside our control, including:

  • Being a woman – 99% of new cases of breast cancer are in women.
  • Getting older – 80% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60.
  • A family history of breast cancer – if you have a family history of breast cancer, you and some other members of your family may have a higher than average risk of developing the disease, however, there may be some ways you can manage your risk.

How many people develop breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women the UK with one woman diagnosed every 10 minutes.

Around 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK

  • In England, every year around 46,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • In Scotland, every year around 4,700 people are diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • In Wales, every year around 2,800 people are diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • In Northern Ireland, every year around 1,500 people are diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • A further 7,000 people are diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), an early form of breast cancer, in the UK every year.

One in seven women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month nearly 5,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Who develops breast cancer?

Eight out of 10 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over. 
One-quarter of cases are diagnosed in women aged 75 and over. Just over 10,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50 every year in the UK. Of these, naround 7,600 women will be in their 40s.
Around 2,300 women in the UK are diagnosed aged 39 or under, or just 4% of all cases. Breast cancer in men is rare with just 370 new cases in the UK each year, compared to around 55,000 new cases in women.

How many people survive breast cancer?

Almost nine in ten (85%) of women survive breast cancer for five years or more.
Breast cancer survival is improving and has doubled in the past 40 years in the UK due to a combination of improvements in treatment and care, earlier detection through screening and a focus on targets, including faster diagnosis.
An estimated 600,000 people are alive in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer. This is predicted to rise to 1.2 million in 2030. For many the overwhelming emotional and physical effects of the disease can be long-lasting.

How many people die from breast cancer?

Every year around 11,500 women and 85 men die from breast cancer in the UK – that’s nearly 1,000 deaths each month, 31 each day or one every 45 minutes.
Breast cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the UK.
Breast cancer is a leading cause of death in women under 50 in the UK. 

What is secondary (or metastatic) breast cancer?

Secondary (or metastatic) breast cancer is when breast cancer spreads from the breast to other parts of the body, becoming incurable.
Breast cancer most commonly spreads to the bones, brain, lungs or liver.
While it cannot be cured, there are treatments that can help control certain forms of the disease for some time and relieve symptoms to help people live well for as long as possible.
There are an estimated 35,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK.
In around 5% of women, breast cancer has already spread by the time it is diagnosed.

For support and information, call Breast Cancer Now's free Helpline on 0808 800 6000

To read more about Breast Cancer Now’s world-class research or life-changing support, visit breastcancernow.org