Breast cancer: The facts

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women in Ireland and every year over 3,100 women are diagnosed with the disease. The vast majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer are aged between 50-64 (41%), but younger women are also affected, with 23% of diagnosis occurring in women under 50.

The number of breast cancer survivors are increasing, with 83% of those with a breast cancer diagnosis now living 5 years and beyond.

Risk factors for developing breast cancer include:

Being a woman: Being a woman is the main risk factor for breast cancer. Men can get breast cancer, but it is very rare.

Getting older: Your risk of breast cancer increases as you get older. Most women who get breast cancer are over the age of 50. (76% of breast cancer patients are over 50 years old).However, the disease can strike younger women too.

Having had breast cancer previously: Women who have had breast cancer have an increased risk of getting breast cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Women on HRT are at an increased risk of breast cancer. Your risk decreases gradually after you stop taking it.

The Pill: The contraceptive pill causes a small increase in risk. This risk gradually returns to normal after you stop taking it.

Starting periods at an early age or having a late menopause: Women who have their first period before the age of 12 or who have the menopause after the age of 55 have a slightly increased risk.

Having no children: Women who have no children or who have their first child later in life have a slightly increased risk.

A strong family history of breast cancer: Women with a strong family history of breast cancer have a higher risk of getting the disease. A strong family history includes:

  • Breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer in several close members of the same family
  • Breast cancer in a close relative when under the age of 50

How to reduce your risk of breast cancer

Be a healthy weight: Being overweight after the menopause can increase your risk of breast cancer. This is because fat cells in your body increase hormones and high levels of certain hormones in turn increase your cancer risk. Try to be a healthy weight by eating a healthy diet and being active.

Be active: Women who are physically active have a lower risk of breast cancer than less active women. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days a week. Moderate physical activity is any movement that makes you feel warm and breathe a little deeper.

Limit alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer. The more you cut down on alcohol, the more you can reduce your risk. Limit your risk by drinking no more than one standard drink a day.

Breastfeed your baby: Breastfeeding helps to protect mothers from breast cancer. It is best to breastfeed your baby for the first six months if possible. The longer a woman breastfeeds her baby, the more she reduces her breast cancer risk.

Don’t smoke: Some recent research suggests that smoking may increase the risk of breast cancer. It is important to note that smoking causes 30 per cent of all cancers. For advice, support and information contact the HSE Quit Team on Freephone 1800 201 203, Freetext QUIT TO 50100

Attend screening: Attend BreastCheck, the breast cancer screening service when called. All women aged 50 to 69 are invited to have a free mammogram every 2 years. See www.breastcheck.ie

Signs & symptoms of breast cancer

  • A change in size or shape such as one breast becoming larger than the other
  • A change in the skin such as puckering or dimpling (like orange peel) or redness
  • A change in the direction or shape of your nipple, especially if it sinks into your breast or becomes irregular in shape
  • An unusual discharge (liquid) from one or both of your nipples
  • A change on or around the nipple such as a rash or flaky or crusted skin
  • Swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone
  • A lump or thickening in your breast
  • Constant pain in one part of your breast or armpit

If you notice any one of these changes talk to your doctor without delay. Remember 9 out of 10 changes won’t turn out to be breast cancer. But if they are, the sooner this is diagnosed the more effective treatment will be.

To speak to a cancer nurse on any aspect of breast cancer contact the Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700, email cancernurseline@irishcancer.ie or drop into one of 13 Daffodil Centres in hospitals nationwide. For information on Daffodil Centre locations and opening times email daffodilcentreinfo@irishcancer.ie.