Breast Cancer Awareness

6th October 2015

As the most common form of cancer suffered by women and the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, most of our lives will be touched by breast cancer. [1] One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point during their life – and of the 55,000 women and 400 men diagnosed in the UK each year, 12,000 women will die. [2] However, thanks to research, more than 85% survive breast cancer beyond 5 years, and 66% of those diagnosed will go on to live for a further 20 years or more. [3]

Some forms of breast cancer are genetic [4]– the most commonly known can be detected by screening for those with a strong family history of the disease. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that women should only be referred for genetic testing if they have a high genetic risk, defined as a 1 in 3 chance of developing breast cancer in their life, or a greater than 1 in 12 chance before the age of 50. NICE guidelines outlining familial risk are available on their website, which involves considering the age the family members developed the cancer, whether it was in both breasts, whether any male relatives suffered breast cancer, and whether there is also ovarian cancer in the family.[5] If you are concerned, discuss referral to a specialist breast clinic with your GP; if appropriate, the breast clinic may refer you on to a specialist genetics service. If you are found to be among those at very high risk, GPs will recommend starting screening earlier to help detect any cancers, giving treatment the best chance of success.[6]

[1] Statistics from the World Cancer Research Fund,
[4] Cancer Research UK lists the genes indicating a statistical increased risk of developing breast cancer as: BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53, PTEN genes (detectable by testing). The following genes have also been identified as posing some increased risk: CASP8, FGFR2, TNRCP, MAP3K1, rs4973768, LSP1, CHEK2, ATM, BRIP1, PALB2. No tests are currently available for these genes.

Only approximately 5-10% of breast cancer cases are believed to be caused by gene defects. [7] Other factors known to affect our likelihood of developing the disease include: obesity (especially if after menopause), having a first pregnancy over the age of 35, taking Combined HRT following the menopause, and drinking alcohol. [8] Risks associated with lifestyle may be reduced by making changes in how we live. The increased chances associated with poor diet and lack of physical activity can be addressed by exercising regularly, minimising the saturated fats we eat and upping our intake of fruit and vegetables. [9] Scientists estimate that 38% of breast cancer cases in the UK could be prevented in this way. [10]

As with family history however, the greatest risk factors – being Caucasian, being female, and getting older – are beyond our control, and it is important to remember that even having several risk factors does not mean you will necessarily go on to develop cancer. [11]

The good news is that many of the factors we commonly associate with breast cancer pose no threat at all, because they’re myths. [12] Despite media stories and internet postings, there is no scientific evidence of any danger from abortion and miscarriage, exposure to pesticides and industrial chemicals, underwired bras, wearing bras at night, breast implants, deodorants, antiperspirants, hair dyes,

[8] There is a 10-12% higher risk of breast cancer associated with each drink per day.
[9] Even moderate physical activity can be of benefit – one large study found that walking for 70-150 minutes over the week reduced breast cancer risk by 18%.

caffeine, plastic food containers, microwaves or mobile phones, migraine headaches, or injury to the breast. [13]

While finding a breast lump can be very worrying, only a small percentage of these turn out to be cancerous. Breast lumps are not the only sign to be alert for, as skin dimpling, discharge or inversion of a nipple can all indicate a possible problem. It is recommended that we all become breast aware, getting to know the normal changes in our breast tissue over the monthly cycle and as we age. [14]

Becoming breast aware is as simple as TLC:

October is breast cancer awareness month, which sees thousands of organisations across the world joining forces to highlight the importance of breast awareness, education and research. The Wear it Pink campaign raises funds through a host of events, which you can learn more about and become involved with through their website: [16] If you want to raise funds to help the fight against breast cancer, fundraising packs are available online

If you have received a diagnosis of breast cancer, remember to make use of the many forms of support available to you:


Macmillan’s online community operates a support forum sufferers to get together, ask questions, and encourage each other.

Breast Cancer Care also provides online help at

Benenden members have 24/7 access to our GP Adviceline and our Psychological Wellbeing 24/7 Helpline by calling 0800 414 8247

They may also be eligible for our Financial Assistance: extra financial help to ease the worry of added costs related to your illness, such as hiring home help, travelling to and from hospital, extra heating, equipment hire, and more. For more information about this, please call our Member Services team on 0800 414 8100. One of our team will guide you through the support that may be available and any useful contacts.

And finally, we can also help scientists in their fight against cancer from our own smart phones! Professor Carlos Caldas and his team at the Cambridge Institute are searching through genetic data from thousands of breast cancers to identify tumours’ molecular signatures. Their game Play to Cure: Genes in Space [17] is a space-invaders caper with a difference – operating a number-crunching powerhouse to help the team sift through the DNA data.


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