This means that one in five breast cancer cases are in women under 50 as latest figures show the total number of women diagnosed each year is now approaching 50,000.
But the good news is that fewer women under 50 than ever before are dying from the disease, largely because of better treatment thanks to research.
Around 7,700 women under 50 were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 in the UK. But by 2010 more than 10,000 were diagnosed with the disease, with the corresponding incidence rates rising by 11 per cent.3 The rise in younger women reflects the overall steady increase in the numbers of breast cancer cases diagnosed in women of all ages – an 18 per cent growth in incidence rates over the same time period.4
It’s not clear why rates of breast cancer are rising in this age group but increasing alcohol intake and hormonal factors such as having fewer children and having them later in life, and increased use of the contraceptive pill may be playing a role.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “Breast cancer is more common in older women but these figures show that younger women are also at risk of developing the disease. Women of all ages who notice anything different about their breasts, including changes in size, shape or feel, a lump or thickening, nipple discharge or rash, dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin, should see their GP straight away, even if they have attended breast cancer screening. It’s more likely not to be cancer but if it is, detecting it early gives the best chance of successful treatment.”
Despite the increased numbers of women under 50, diagnosed with breast cancer the rate of women in this age group dying from the disease has fallen by 40 per cent since the early 1990s.
In the early 1990s,5 the death rate from breast cancer in women under the age of 50 was nine per 100,000 women in the UK. By late 2000, this had fallen to five women in every 100,000.
More than eight in 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50 now survive their disease for at least five years.
Sara Hiom added: “The number of cases in women under 50 diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing slowly, but thanks to research, awareness and improved care more women than ever before are surviving the disease. Cancer Research UK’s crucial work in the laboratory is behind many important drugs, such as tamoxifen and herceptin, and our trials of drugs called aromatase inhibitors paved the way for the development of anastrozole – all of this is helping to give women with breast cancer more treatment options.”
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1 In 2010 10,068 women under 50 were diagnosed in the UK. This compares with 7,712 women under 50 diagnosed with the disease in 1995.
3 This represents a 11 per cent growth in incidence rates of breast cancer in women aged under 50 over 15 years – from 38 per 100,000 women in the UK diagnosed with the disease in 1993-1995, to 42 women per 100,000 diagnosed in 2008-2010.
4 There were also 49,564 women of all ages diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 in the UK. This compares with 37,107 women of all ages diagnosed with the disease in 1995. This represents an 18 per cent growth in incidence rates of breast cancer in women of all ages over 15 years from 106 women diagnosed with the disease in every 100 000 UK women in 1993-1995 to 126 women in every 100 000 women diagnosed in 2008-2010.
5 The death rate fell from nine per 100,000 women under 50 in 1993-1995 to five per 100,000 in 2008-2010 in the UK. The five year survival rate for those diagnosed with breast cancer in England between 2005 and 2009 was 83.5 per cent for females aged 15-39 and 89.1 per cent for females aged 40-49.