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Breast cancer incidence statistics

Incidence statistics for breast cancer by country in the UK, age and trends over time are presented here. There are also data on lifetime risk, the distribution of cases, stage at diagnosis, geography, socio-economic variation, and prevalence. 

The statistics on this page are for invasive breast cancer only. Statistics for in situ breast carcinoma (a non-invasive tumour of the breast) are also available.

Due to the small number of men diagnosed each year most of the information on this page refers to females only but some statistics for breast cancer in males are provided.

Find out more about the coding and counting of this data.

 

By country in the UK

Breast cancer has been the most common cancer in the UK since 1997, despite the fact that it is rare in men. It is by far the most common cancer among women in the UK (2011), accounting for 30% of all new cases of cancer in females.1-4

In 2011, there were 50,285 new cases of breast cancer in the UK (Table 1.1): 49,936 (99%) in women and 349 (less than 1%) in men, giving a female:male ratio of 143:1.1-4 The crude incidence rate shows that there are 155 new breast cancer cases for every 100,000 females in the UK, and 1 for every 100,000 males.

European age-standardised incidence rates (AS rates) are significantly higher in Scotland compared with England and Northern Ireland (females only) (Table 1.1). Rates do not differ significantly between the other constituent countries of the UK for women or men. For almost two decades, female breast cancer incidence has been lowest in Northern Ireland compared with the three other UK countries, but in 2011 only the difference with Scotland was significant.5 Scotland is the only nation in the UK where breast cancer is not the most common cancer overall; there lung cancer is more common.1-4

Table 1.1: Breast Cancer (C50), Number of New Cases, Crude and European Age-Standardised (AS) Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, UK, 2011

England Wales Scotland Northern Ireland UK
Male Cases 303 11 30 5 349
Crude Rate 1.2 0.7 1.2 0.6 1.1
AS Rate 0.9 0.5 0.9 0.5 0.9
AS Rate - 95% LCL 0.8 0.2 0.6 0.1 0.8
AS Rate - 95% UCL 1.0 0.9 1.2 0.9 1.0
Female Cases 41,523 2,569 4,578 1,266 49,936
Crude Rate 153.9 164.8 169.1 136.9 155.3
AS Rate 124.8 123.3 130.2 118.4 125.1
AS Rate - 95% LCL 123.6 118.5 126.4 111.8 124.0
AS Rate - 95% UCL 126.0 128.0 133.9 124.9 126.2

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95% LCL and 95% UCL are the 95% lower and upper confidence limits around the AS Rate

There was little geographical variation in breast cancer incidence in the 1990s, with slightly higher rates in some areas of south England (except London) and slightly lower rates in the far north of England.6 The latest analysis of breast cancer incidence rates throughout the UK reports only modest variation between most cancer networks, but notably higher rates in parts of the Midlands and north west Scotland, and lower rates in parts of London.7,8

section reviewed 16/04/14
section updated 16/04/14

 

By age (females)

Female breast cancer incidence is strongly related to age, with the highest incidence rates overall being in older women, supporting a link with hormonal status. In the UK between 2009 and 2011, an average of 80% of breast cancer cases were diagnosed in the over 50s, and around a quarter (24%) were diagnosed in women aged 75 and over (Figure 1.1).1-4 Age-specific incidence rates rise steeply from around age 30-34, level off for women in their 50s, then rise further to age 65-69. Rates drop slightly for women aged 70-74 and then increase steadily to reach an overall peak in the 85+ age group (Figure 1.1).1-4 The peaks and troughs of incidence for women aged 50 and over may partly be explained by the impact of screening for breast cancer.

Figure 1.1: Breast Cancer (C50), Average Number of New Cases per Year and Age-Specific Incidence Rates, Females, UK, 2009-2011

cases_crude_f_breast.swf

Download this chart XLS (56KB) PPT (135KB) PDF (68KB)

Nearly half (47%) of female breast cancer cases are diagnosed in the 50-69 age group (Figure 1.1);1-4 currently women in this age group and those aged 70 are invited for screening every three years in the UK through the NHS Breast Screening Programme.9 In England, this age range is currently being extended to include women aged 47-49 and 71-73 and full roll-out is expected to be completed after 2016.39

Relatively few breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women under 50 in the UK (around 9,800 cases each year), and very few of those cases occur in women in their teens or early 20s. However, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women aged under 40. Among women aged 35-39 in the UK, around 1,300 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year.

section reviewed 16/04/14
section updated 16/04/14

 

Trends over time (females)

Female breast cancer incidence rates have overall increased in Great Britain since the mid-1970s (Figure 1.2).1-3 European AS incidence rates increased by 72% between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011. Between the mid-1970s and the late 1980s, incidence rates increased steadily by around 1-2% per annum.1-3,5 The introduction of national screening programmes from the late 1980s led to a transient additional increase in incidence as a prevalent pool of undiagnosed cancers were detected in the population. By the mid-1990s, the increase in incidence rates returned to the pre-screening pace and continued this way until around the mid-2000s, after which time incidence rates have remained relatively stable (Figure 1.2).1-3

Figure 1.2: Breast Cancer (C50), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates, Females, Great Britain, 1975-2011

inc_asr_gb_f_breast.swf

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Female breast cancer incidence trends for the UK are shown in Figure 1.3.1-4 Over the last decade (between 2000-2002 and 2009-2011), the European AS incidence rate has increased by 7%, with almost this entire rise occurring before the mid-2000s.

Figure 1.3: Breast Cancer (C50), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates, Females, UK, 1993-2011

inc_asr_uk_breast.swf

Download this chart XLS (44KB) PPT (126KB) PDF (37KB)

Female breast cancer incidence rates have overall increased for all broad age groups in Great Britain since the mid-1970s (Figure 1.4).1-3 The largest increases have been in women aged 65-69 and 50-64, with European AS incidence rates around doubling (108% and 95% increases, respectively) between 1975-1977 and 2009-2011. The trends by age-group show clearly that the steeper increase in incidence in the late 1980s and early 1990s was largely confined to women aged 50-64 (the age group for screening when the programmes began). Similarly, the steep rise in rates for women aged 65-69 in the early- to mid-2000s is almost certainly caused by the extension of the breast screening programmes to include this age group, which started in 2001.1-3 The most recent rates show a slight downturn for both of these age-groups, which is thought to be associated with decreased use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).10,11 Similar trends have been seen in other countries.12-18 It has been estimated that 1,400 fewer cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in women aged 50-59 in the UK in 2005 than would have occurred if HRT use had not declined.19

Figure 1.4: Breast Cancer (C50), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates, Females, by Age, Great Britain, 1975-2011

inc_asr_age_f_breast.swf

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section reviewed 16/04/14
section updated 16/04/14

 

Lifetime risk (females)

Lifetime risk is an estimation of the risk that a newborn child has of being diagnosed with cancer at some point during their life. It is a summary of risk in the population but genetic and lifestyle factors affect the risk of cancer and so the risk for every individual is different.

In 2010, in the UK, the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 868 for men.20

The lifetime risk for breast cancer has been calculated by the Statistical Information Team using the ‘Adjusted for Multiple Primaries’ (AMP) method; this accounts for the possibility that someone can have more than one diagnosis of breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.21

section reviewed 25/04/13
section updated 25/04/13

 

Distribution of cases (females)

Almost a quarter (24%) of all female breast cancer cases in Great Britain between 2008 and 2010 occurred in the upper-outer quadrant of the breast (ICD-10 C50.4). A further 7% were in the upper-inner quadrant (ICD-10 C50.2), and 6% were classified as overlapping more than one region of the breast (ICD-10 C50.8). Almost half (48%) of the cases did not have the specific part of the breast affected recorded in cancer registry data.1-3

section reviewed 07/11/12
section updated 07/11/12

 

By stage at diagnosis (females)

Data on around 17,800 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the East of England in 2006-2009 shows that, of the 92% of cancers for which a stage was recorded, 41% were Stage I, 45% stage II, 9% stage III and 5% stage IV.22

section reviewed 07/11/12
section updated 07/11/12

 

In Europe and worldwide (females)

Although cancer registration has a long history in many countries of the world, particularly in the more affluent regions such as the UK, nearly 80% of the world’s populations live in regions that are not covered by such systems.23 Nonetheless, with a view to characterising the global burden of the disease, the International Agency for Research on Cancer routinely uses the available data to estimate worldwide cancer incidence.24

Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer diagnosed in women worldwide, with an estimated 1.38 million new cases diagnosed in 2008 (around 23% of the total in women only, and around 11% of the total in men and women together). Female breast cancer incidence rates are highest in Western Europe and lowest in Eastern and Middle Africa, with nearly five-fold variation in World AS incidence rates between the regions of the world (Figure 1.5).24

Figure 1.5: Breast Cancer (C50), World Age-Standardised Incidence Rates, Females, World Regions, 2008 Estimates

world_inc_breast.swf

Download this chart XLS (62KB) PPT (142KB) PDF (62KB)

Female breast cancer incidence has been increasing for many years in economically developed regions of the world;11,25 and now rates in central and eastern Europe and the Far East, which have historically been comparatively low, have begun to rise rapidly.26-28 These increases have been linked to lifestyle changes, for example in reproductive behaviour (having fewer children, breastfeeding for a shorter time), weight gain, alcohol consumption and the use of HRT.29,40 Accordingly, in populations of women who migrate from low to high risk countries breast cancer rates typically increase rapidly to reach those of the local population, suggesting a strong effect for lifestyle or environmental factors.30,31 Female breast cancer risk could be more than halved in developed countries, if reproductive behaviours were the same there as in developing countries during the 1990s.40

Within the 27 countries of the European Union, the highest female breast cancer European AS incidence rates for 2008 are estimated to be in Belgium (around 145 cases per 100,000); the lowest rates are estimated to be in Greece (around 57 cases per 100,000) (Figure 1.6).

Figure 1.6: Breast Cancer (C50), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates, Females, EU27 Countries, 2008 Estimates

EU27_inc_breast.swf

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UK female breast cancer incidence rates are estimated to be the 6th highest in Europe (EU-27).21

section reviewed 07/11/12
section updated 07/11/12

 

By socio-economic group (females)

Female breast cancer incidence is strongly related to deprivation; it is one of the few cancers where incidence rates are lower for more deprived women and there is a clear trend of decreasing rates from least to most deprived women.32 The most recent England-wide data for 2000-2004 shows European AS incidence rates are around 25% higher for women living in the least deprived areas compared with the most deprived.33 It has been estimated that there would have been an additional 2,500 new breast cancer cases each year in England during 2000-2004 if all women experienced the same rates as the most affluent.33

A study in Scotland for 2005-2009 showed that the gap in breast cancer incidence is slightly lower, with the least deprived women having around 11% higher rates compared with the most deprived.34 Similar clear associations with deprivation have also been reported in Wales and Northern Ireland.35,36

These results are not unexpected as many breast cancer risk factors – for example, late first pregnancy, lower parity, and HRT use – are generally more prevalent in more affluent populations.37

section reviewed 07/11/12
section updated 07/11/12

By ethnicity

Age-standardised rates for White females with breast cancer range from 122.4 to 125.7 per 100,000. Rates for Asian females are significantly lower, ranging from 59.7 to 92.3 per 100,000 and the rates for Black females are also significantly lower, ranging from 68.8 to 107.9 per 100,000.40

Ranges are given because of the analysis methodology used to account for missing and unknown data. For female breast cancer, 187,620 cases were identified; 25% had no known ethnicity.

section reviewed 16/04/14
section updated 16/04/14

 

Prevalence

Prevalence refers to the number of people who have previously received a diagnosis of cancer and who are still alive at a given time point. Some patients will have been cured of their disease and others will not.

In the UK around 296,000 women and around 1,700 men were still alive at the end of 2006, up to ten years after being diagnosed with breast cancer (Table 1.2).38

Table 1.2: Breast Cancer (C50), One, Five and Ten Year Cancer Prevalence, UK, 31st December 2006

1 Year Prevalence 5 Year Prevalence 10 Year Prevalence
Male 256 1,089 1,732
Female 40,137 175,974 296,037
Persons 40,393 177,063 297,769

Download this table XLS (30KB) PPT (120KB) PDF (17KB)

Worldwide, it is estimated that there were around 5.19 million women still alive in 2008, up to five years after their diagnosis.24

section reviewed 17/05/13
section updated 17/05/13

 

Breast cancer incidence in males

In 2011, 349 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK (Table 1.1). Among men, breast cancer accounts for less than 1% of cancer cases.1-3

Breast cancer incidence in males is strongly related to age. In the UK between 2009 and 2011, an average of 36% of male breast cancer cases were in men aged 75 years and over (Figure 1.7).1-4

Figure 1.7: Breast Cancer (C50), Average Number of New Cases per Year and Age-Specific Incidence Rates, Males, UK, 2009-2011

cases_crude_breast.swf

Download this chart XLS (54KB) PPT (133KB) PDF (299KB)

Breast cancer incidence rates for men have changed very little since the late 1970s in Great Britain (Figure 1.8).1-3

Figure 1.8: Breast Cancer (C50), European Age-Standardised Incidence Rates, Males, Great Britain, 1979-2011

inc_asr_gb_m_breast.swf

Download this chart XLS (48KB) PPT (126KB) PDF (39KB)

The latest prevalence estimates for the UK (Table 1.2) show that around 1,700 men were still alive at the end of 2006, up to ten years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.38

section reviewed 16/04/14
section updated 16/04/14

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References for breast cancer incidence

  1. Data were provided by the Office for National Statistics on request, July 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/cancer-statistics-registrations--england--series-mb1-/index.html.
  2. Data were provided by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerData/OnlineStatistics/
  3. Data were provided by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/page.cfm?orgid=242&pid=51358
  4. Data were provided by ISD Scotland on request, May 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Cancer/Publications/index.asp#605
  5. Westlake S, Cooper N. Cancer incidence and mortality: trends in the United Kingdom and constituent countries, 1993 to 2004. Health Statistics Quarterly. 2008. 38.
  6. Quinn M, Wood H, Cooper N, et al, eds. Cancer Atlas of the United Kingdom and Ireland 1991–2000. Studies on Medical and Population Subjects No. 68. London: ONS; 2005.
  7. NCIN. Cancer Incidence and Mortality by Cancer Network, UK, 2005. London: NCIN; 2008.
  8. NCIN. Cancer e-Atlas.
  9. UK National Screening Committee. UK Screening Portal: Breast screening across the UK. Accessed October 2012.
  10. Farquhar C, Marjoribanks J, Lethaby A, et al. Long term hormone therapy for perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2009. 15(2):CD004143.
  11. Beral V; Million Women Study Collaborators. Breast cancer and hormone-replacement therapy in the Million Women Study. Lancet 2003. 362(9382):419-27.
  12. Glass AG, Lacey JV Jr, Carreon JD, et al. Breast cancer incidence, 1980-2006: combined roles of menopausal hormone therapy, screening mammography, and estrogen receptor status. J Natl Cancer Inst 2007. 99:1152-61.
  13. Ravdin PM, Cronin KA, Howlader N, et al. The Decrease in Breast Cancer Incidence in 2003 in the United States. N Engl J Med 2007. 356:1670-4.
  14. Berry DA, Ravdin PM. Breast Cancer Trends: A marriage Between Clinical Trial Evidence and Epidemiology. J Natl Cancer Inst 2007. 99:1139-41.
  15. Rossouw JE, Anderson GL, Prentice RL, et al. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results from the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2002. 288:321-33.
  16. Chlebowski RT, Kuller LH, Prentice RL, et al. Breast cancer after use of estrogen plus progestin in postmenopausal women. N Engl J Med 2009. 360:573-87.
  17. Kumle M. Declining breast cancer incidence and decreased HRT use. Lancet 2008. 372:608-10.
  18. Brewster DH, Sharpe KH, Clark DI, et al. Declining breast cancer incidence and decreased HRT use. Lancet 2009. 373:459-60.
  19. Parkin DM. Is the recent fall in incidence of post menopausal breast cancer in UK related to changes in use of hormone replacement therapy? Eur J Cancer 2009. 45(9): 1649-53.
  20. Lifetime risk was calculated using 2010 data for females and 2008-2010 data for males by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK, 2012.
  21. Sasieni PD, Shelton J, Ormiston-Smith N, et al. What is the lifetime risk of developing cancer?: The effect of adjusting for multiple primaries. Br J Cancer 2011;105(3):460-5.
  22. Lyratzopoulos G, Abel GA, Barbiere JM, et al. Variation in advanced stage at diagnosis of lung and female breast cancer in an English region 2006-2009. Br J Cancer 2012. 106(6):1068-75.
  23. Ferlay J, Shin HR, Bray F, et al. Estimates of worldwide burden of cancer in 2008: GLOBOCAN 2008. Int J Cancer 2010. 127(12):2893-97.
  24. Ferlay J, Shin HR, Bray F, et al. GLOBOCAN 2008 v1.2, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 10 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2010. Available from http://globocan.iarc.fr. Accessed May 2011.
  25. Hery C, Ferlay J, Boniol M, et al. Changes in breast cancer incidence and mortality in middle-aged and elderly women in 28 countries with Caucasian majority populations. Ann Oncol 2008. 19(5):1009-1018.
  26. Hery C, Ferlay J, Boniol M, et al. Quantification of changes in breast cancer incidence and mortality since 1990 in 35 countries with Caucasian-majority populations. Ann Oncol 2008. 19:1187-94.
  27. Leung GM, Thach TQ, Lam TH, et al. Trends in breast cancer incidence in Hong Kong between 1973 and 1999:an age-period-cohort analysis. Br J Cancer 2002. 87:982-88.
  28. Nagata C, Kawakami N, Shimzu H. Trends in the incidence rate and risk factors for breast cancer in Japan. Breast Cancer Res Treat 1997. 44:75-82.
  29. Hesketh T, Lu L, Xing ZW. The effect of China's one-child family policy after 25 years. N Engl J Med 2005. 353:1171-76.
  30. Ziegler RG, Hoover RN, Pike MC, et al. Migration patterns and breast cancer risk in Asian-American women. J Natl Cancer Inst 1993. 85(22):1819-27.
  31. Deapen D, Liu L, Perkins C, et al. Rapidly rising breast cancer incidence rates among Asian-American women. Intl J Cancer 2002. 99:747-50.
  32. Rowan S. Trends in cancer incidence by deprivation, England and Wales, 1990-2002. (PDF 794KB) Health Statistics Quarterly 2007. 36.
  33. NCIN. Cancer incidence by deprivation England, 1995-2004. (PDF 1.04MB) 2008.
  34. ISD Scotland. Cancer statistics. Cancer of the female breast. Accessed April 2012.
  35. Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit. Cancer in Wales, 1995-2009: A Comprehensive Report. 2011.
  36. Donnelly DW, Gavin AT, Comber H. Cancer in Ireland 1994-2004: A comprehensive report. (PDF 7.77MB) Northern Ireland Cancer Registry/National Cancer Registry, Ireland; 2009.
  37. Quinn MJ, Cooper N, Rachet B, et al. Survival from cancer of the breast in women in England and Wales up to 2001. Br J Cancer 2008. 99(Suppl 1):S53-55.
  38. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN). One, Five and Ten Year Cancer Prevalence by Cancer Network, UK, 2006. London: NCIN; 2010.
  39. NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme. Age Extension Full Randomised Control Trial. Accessed 11/12/13.
  40. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50 302 women with breast cancer and 96 973 women without the disease. The Lancet 2002;360(9328):187-95.
Updated: 16 April 2014