Breast cancer rates in the UK are on the rise, with one in eight women developing the disease in their lifetime, according to Cancer Research UK.
The risk ten years ago was one in nine and statistics show that rates have increased by more than 50% over the last 25 years. The biggest rise in rates was among women aged between 50 and 69 where cases increased by more than 6%, while rates among younger women aged 25 to 49 dropped slightly by 0.5%.
A key cause of the rise in incidence is the ageing population. Eighty per cent of breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 or over. Increased use of screening is another factor, identifying cancers that might previously have gone undetected, while women with a family history of the disease are at increased risk of developing it.
However, experts believe that lifestyle factors also play a role in risk. Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer in women after the menopause by up to 30% while women currently using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have a 66% increased risk of the disease. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has also been shown to increase risk while a more active lifestyle reduces it. Women tend to have fewer children later in life and this too increases risk.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of health information, said: "Women cannot change their genes but small changes in everyday habits can help to reduce cancer risk. Cutting back on alcohol by keeping within government recommended limits of no more than 14 units a week (a small drink a day) helps. Taking more exercise and eating a diet high in fibre but low in saturated fat can help maintain a healthy weight - which in turn reduces breast cancer risk. Women should also discuss hormone replacement therapy with their doctor as long-term use can raise breast cancer risk.
"Mammograms will pick up breast cancers early on before they can be felt as a lump or spotted through other visible changes and we know that the earlier a cancer is detected the more successful treatment is likely to be so women can benefit by taking up invitations to breast screening."
More women are surviving breast cancer than ever before. More than 75% of women diagnosed with the disease now survive for at least ten years while almost two-thirds survive for more than 20 years. However, 12,000 women a year die from breast cancer, including 1,300 women under the age of 50.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. In the UK in 2008 almost 47,700 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, around 130 women a day.