Breast cancer: Incidence and risk factors

Part of our GP resources on tumour types, here we focus on incidence and risk factors of breast cancer, including important factors to be aware of when diagnosing patients


  • Most common cancer in the UK
  • A UK woman’s lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is 1 in 8 (12.5%)
  • Of approximately 55,222 new cases in 2014, less than 1% were in men
  • 48% of breast cancer cases in the UK each year are diagnosed in people aged 65 and over (2012-2014) 


Risk factors

There is a lot of research and press coverage of both risk and protective factors for breast cancer. The most important risk factors for you to be aware of when diagnosing patients are:

  • The pill: current users of oral contraceptives have an increased risk of around a quarter but only 1% of all UK breast cancers are linked to oral contraceptive use.
  • HRT: women currently using HRT have a 66% increased risk of breast cancer but this risk returns to normal after five years of stopping HRT.