Incidence rises while deaths continue to fall
Age-standardised incidence of and mortality from female breast cancer, England, 1971-2003
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in England. In 2003 there were around 36,500 new cases diagnosed, representing 32 per cent of all cancers in women and a rate of 120 cases per 100,000 women.
Four in five new cases are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over, with the peak in the 50 to 64 age group.
Around 10,500 women died from breast cancer in England in 2003, a rate of 29 deaths per 100,000 women. It is the most common cause of cancer death in women.
One in nine women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. Most of the known risk factors for breast cancer relate to a woman’s reproductive history such as early first period, late first pregnancy, low number of live-born children (parity) and late menopause. Oral contraceptive use, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), obesity and increased alcohol consumption also increase the risk.
The breast screening programme was introduced in 1988 with the aim of reducing the number of women dying from breast cancer. Originally, breast screening was offered every three years to all women aged between 50 and 64, and to women aged 65 and over on request. From 2001, this began to be extended to women in England aged 65 to 70, and to women over 70 on request. Full national coverage for this older age group was achieved by the end of 2004. In 2003-04, three quarters of women aged 50-64 invited for screening in England underwent screening for breast cancer. Over 1.4 million women are screened each year.
Incidence rates increased by 80 per cent between 1971 and 2003, and by 16 per cent in the ten years to 2003.
Earlier detection and improved treatment has meant that survival rates have risen. Five-year survival was 80 per cent for women diagnosed in 1998-2001 in England. Survival from breast cancer is higher than that for cervical cancer and much higher than for the other major cancers in women - lung, colorectal and ovarian.
Death rates gradually increased up to the mid-1980s and then began to fall around the time that screening started. By 1998 mortality was around 20 per cent lower than it would have been without screening (based on predictions of pre-screening rates in various age groups). Falls occurred in all age groups, but were greatest in women aged 55 to 69.
Source: Office for National Statistics
Note: All rates stated are directly age standardised using the European standard population