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About breast cancer

Find out about who gets breast cancer, where it starts and how common it is.

The breasts

Breasts are made of fat, connective tissue, and gland tissue divided into lobes.

A network of ducts spreads from the lobes towards the nipple.

Diagram showing the lobes and ducts of a breast

Breast size and density

One breast is usually smaller than the other. Your breasts may feel different at different times in the month. It is common for breasts to feel lumpy just before your period. 

Younger women have more glandular tissue than fat in their breasts, making them dense. 

After the menopause the glandular tissue is gradually replaced by fat, which is less dense. 

Where it starts

Breast cancer most commonly starts in the cells that line the ducts of the breast. 

9 out of 10 of these cancers have no special features when the cells are looked at under the microscope. They are called invasive breast cancer (NST). NST stands for No Special Type. 

Around 1 in 10 breast cancers (10%) are invasive lobular carcinoma. This means that the cancer started in the cells that line the lobules of the breast.

There are other rarer types of breast cancer.

Nearby lymph nodes

There is a network of lymph glands (also called lymph nodes) close to the breast. They are part of the lymphatic system that runs throughout the body. The lymph nodes and lymph vessles have a yellow fluid called lymph that flows through your lymphatic system. It collects waste products and drains into your veins for the waste to be removed. Cancer cells released from the breast tissue can be trapped in the nearby lymph nodes. 

Diagram showing the network of lymph nodes in around the breast
Lymph nodes around the breast

The lymph glands in the armpit (axilla) are called the axillary lymph glands. There is also a chain of lymph nodes that runs up the centre of your chest, close to your breast bone. This is called the internal mammary chain.

Who gets it

Around 55,200 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year. That is around 150 people a day. 

It is more common in women than men. Around 54,800 women are diagnosed each year and around 390 men.

1 in 8 women in the UK develop breast cancer during their lifetime. 1 in 870 men develop it. Most of the women who get breast cancer have had their menopause, but about 2 out of every 10 (20%) are under 50 years old.

Breast cancer risk can be affected by age, family history and lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking.

How common it is

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK.

15% of all newly diagnosed cancers in the UK are breast cancer.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.