Normally our cells reproduce in an orderly way only when we need them.  In cancer, the cells grow and multiply uncontrollably. There are many different types of breast cancer and knowing the type of cancer helps the doctors plan the right type of treatment.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with around 48,000 people diagnosed with the disease each year.* Eight out of ten of these people will be women over 50* although some younger women get breast cancer and in some cases men too are diagnosed.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

  • Being female is the greatest risk factor and then age.** 
  • Having more children (an average of 6.5 children instead of 2.5) and breast feeding for longer (each child for 24 months instead of 8) can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Starting your periods at an early age (12-13 years) increases your risk.
  • The younger you are when you have your first baby will decrease your risk as will having a higher number of full term pregnancies.
  • Late menopause will increase your risk.
  • Family history. Your risk can be doubled if your mother or sister has breast cancer. NICE guidelines published in 2013*** show who is most at risk and how they should be treated.
  • Taking HRT can increase your risk while you take it and for up to five years afterwards.
  • Drinking alcohol can increase your risk.
  • Smoking can also increase your risk.
  • Studies also have shown that shift work can increase your risk of developing breast cancer as the body is not able to produce melatonin during the night.

Be breast aware

Being breast aware is part of maintaining your healthy lifestyle. As women get older their risk of developing breast cancer increases. Being conscious of how your breasts look and feel and regularly checking them is vital. If you notice any of the following, you should contact your GP who can refer you to one of our breast clinics.

  • Changes in size of the breast or if one breast is noticeably larger than the other
  • Inverted nipples or a change in nipple shape
  • A rash on or around the nipple
  • Discharge from one or both nipples
  • Puckering or dimpling of the skin of the breast
  • A swelling under the armpit or around the collar bone
  • A lump or thickening of the breast
  • Constant pain in the breast or your armpit

It’s easy to check for any changes as you are getting dressed or in the shower. You should feel all parts of your breast and up into your armpit.

Breast screening

Breast screening (a mammogram) is designed to find cancers while they are very small and before they can be felt by you or your doctor. Visit our breast screening and awareness page to find out more.

Making the decision that’s right for you

When you are deciding whether to have a mammogram, it is important that you have all the relevant information in order to make an informed choice. Everyone wants and expects a normal result but you should consider the possibility that your result may not be straight forward and you may require further tests.  This is all part of the screening process. Most women will be given the all clear after these tests but some will go on to have surgery or other forms of treatment. Having any extra tests will cause anxiety even if the outcome is good.

How can I book a mammogram?

If you would like to have a mammogram we can arrange one for you if you:

  • Are over 40 years of age
  • Have not had a mammogram within the last 12 months
  • You have no current breast problems
  • You are not breast feeding


** Cancer Research UK
***NICE Familial Breast Cancer, clinical guidance 164

Related treatments and procedures