'Kylie effect' can confuse women over breast cancer risk

Cancer Research UK

The vast majority of women of all ages mistakenly think breast cancer is more likely to strike the under 70s than older women.

A survey of 2289 women, commissioned by Cancer Research UK, has found that 77 per cent of those questioned thought a woman’s risk of breast cancer is higher if she is below the age of 70.

And more than one third (37 per cent) thought women were more likely to get breast cancer if they were under the age of 50.

In fact breast cancer risk increases with age. Up to the age of 40 women have a one in 200 risk of breast cancer. This increases to one in 50 up to the age of 50. But for women over the age of 70, breast cancer risk soars to one in 11.

Dr Lesley Walker said: "The survey illustrates another aspect of what has come to be known as 'the Kylie effect'. Celebrities with breast cancer like Kylie Minogue and Caron Keating have attracted a lot of publicity - especially in magazines aimed at younger women.

"This is very beneficial in that it raises awareness of breast cancer. But the down side is that it may also set up a chain of panic among young women while misleading older women to think that ageing is not a relevant factor in breast cancer.

"This survey shows that most women simply don’t equate older age with higher risk. But 80 per cent of breast cancer cases are in women over 50. That is why it is so important for women to go for breast screening from the age of 50 when they are invited every three years.

"Although screening invitations stop at 70 women are fully entitled to continue to be regularly screened if they ask their doctor for an appointment."

Barbara Powell, 64, from Pontyclun in South Wales, was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram. She said: "It was such a shock to find I had breast cancer because I had had no symptoms. It is so important for older women to realise that risk increases with age. I never tire of telling friends who are approaching 70 that they must continue to ask for screening."

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: "It is always distressing when women of any age are diagnosed with breast cancer and particularly so when the woman is young with her life still ahead of her. It is important that women should be aware of the disease and its early signs. But it is essential to remember that four out of five cases of breast cancer are in women over 50 and those most at risk would be at least a generation older than Kylie Minogue and Caron Keating."

ENDS

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Notes to Editor:

Women's risk of breast cancer

By age:

  • 25 - 1 in 15,000
  • 30 - 1 in 1,900
  • 40 - 1 in 200
  • 50 - 1 in 50
  • 60 - 1 in 23
  • 70 - 1 in 15
  • 80 - 1 in 11
  • 85+ - 1 in 10
  • over lifetime - 1 in 9

Breast cancer facts

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK apart from non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • More than 42,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year.
  • One in nine women will develop the disease during their lifetime.
  • Age is the biggest risk factor - four out of five cases occur after the age of 50.
  • Five year survival rates have improved by 20 per cent up to 80 per cent in the last 20 years.
  • Cancer Research UK is the leading funder of breast cancer research in the UK spending £25 million last year.
  • All women between 50 and 70 are invited for a mammogram every three years by the NHS breast screening programme.
  • Regular screening is available to women over 70 on request. Contact your GP or local breast screening unit.
  • It is recommended that women who are at moderate or high risk of breast cancer due to family history of the disease are screened annually from their early forties onwards.
  • Some forms of HRT increase breast cancer risk. These are usually the combined forms of HRT taken over a long period.
  • Being overweight after the menopause and regularly drinking alcohol slightly increases risk.
  • Breast cancer can also affect men but this is rare. Around 260 cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.