It’s not clear why breast cancer affects some women and not others, but genetics can play a part in your risk of developing breast cancer. There are some genes that can significantly increase your risk such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Breast cancer usually affects women over 50 who have been through menopause (8 out of 10 cases), so if you’re approaching or over this age, it’s very important to check yourself regularly. If you have a close family member who has had breast or ovarian cancer, your risk increases further.
Being exposed to oestrogen for longer periods slightly increases the risk of breast cancer, for example, being on the contraceptive pill, not having children (as being pregnant interrupts your exposure to oestrogen) or starting your periods at a young age and beginning the menopause at a later than average age.
Alcohol intake also increases your risk and research has found that with every 200 women who consume two alcoholic drinks a day, three more women will develop breast cancer, compared with women who don’t drink at all.
Taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is also associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer (as much as 19 extra cases for every 1000 women taking HRT) but the risk returns to normal when you stop taking it.
More than 90% of lumps are not breast cancer, but even so, you should get your GP to check out any lump you find to rule it out.
It’s not easy to spot the signs of breast (or any) cancer, but see your GP if you notice any of the following:
A lump in either breast
Change in size or shape of breasts
A lump or swelling in or around your armpits
Dimpling of the skin
Changes in appearance of your nipples
The best way to spot these changes is to check yourself regularly, so that you know what is normal for you.
Cancer Research UK: Breast cancer risks and causes
Live Well: Breast cancer genes
Macmillan: Breast cancer causes and risk factors
Written by Ruth Tongue