Find out more about breast cancer, including how common it is and ways to reduce your risk.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK – 1 in 8 women develop the disease at some stage in their lifetime.
Breast cancer is rare in men, with around 400 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK, compared with 56,987 new cases in women in 2019*.
Only 3% of breast cancer cases are in women who carry genes that have been linked to the disease. Many of the factors that increase your chances of developing the disease are linked to your lifestyle.
Breasts are made up of fatty connective tissue, milk-producing glands and ducts that carry milk from the glands to the nipple. Breast tissue naturally develops in response to hormones at different stages of life – for example, during puberty, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Breast cancers almost always develop in the glands or ducts that produce milk and carry it to the nipple.
Cancers develop as a result of cells being damaged, which then grow uncontrollably, forming a lump or thickening called a tumour.
There are many different reasons why breast cancers develop, and hormones (particularly oestrogen) can influence the development and growth of some breast cancers. This means that life events that affect your hormone levels, such as pregnancy, can alter your cancer risk.
There are also other important risk factors that you can do something about, such as your diet and lifestyle choices.
As with all cancers, the risk of developing breast cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person.
If any of these apply to you, it does not mean that you will develop breast cancer – it just means that your risk may be higher than average. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
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These steps are based on research from our Global Cancer Update Programme (CUP Global).
There is strong evidence that drinking alcohol is a cause of breast cancer. Find out more about the link between alcohol and cancer or find out how many calories are in alcoholic drinks by using our alcohol calorie calculator. Or why not browse our healthy recipes for some inspirational mocktail ideas?
The relationship between weight and breast cancer at different stages of life is complex and more research is needed.
Surprisingly, there is evidence that being overweight or obese in adulthood before the menopause can reduce the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer.
However, being a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain throughout adulthood are important in decreasing your risk of breast cancer after the menopause, which is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80 per cent of cases.
Our recommendation is to maintain a healthy weight throughout all stages of life as being a healthy weight helps to prevent post-menopausal breast cancer and 11 other common cancers, as well as other conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Vigorous physical activity lowers the risk of premenopausal breast cancer and every type of physical activity (moderate and vigorous) helps protect against postmenopausal breast cancer.
We recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, and to sit less. The more active you are the better.
Breastfeeding is good for your baby’s health and it can also help protect you against breast cancer. Find out more about our breastfeeding for cancer prevention recommendation.
The good news is that most breast cancer cases can be successfully treated if they are detected early – that’s why it is important to attend breast screening whenever you are invited.