Breast Cancer Cases Soar Among Those Under 50

The rate of diagnosed cases of breast cancer is on the rise, climbing to a record average of 27 a day among those under the age of 50, according to Cancer Research UK.

Breast cancer, the most common type of cancer in the UK, kills nearly 12,000 women annually. Women under 50 are being diagnosed with breast cancer – the number exceeding 10,000 a year for the first time in 2010. However more women than ever before are surviving due to advances in treatment.

This type of cancer is more common in older women, making up eight of 10 cases on average, but in recent years is occurring more frequently in younger patients. In the last 15 years, female breast cancer incidence rates in the UK have significantly increased.

In 2010, 10,068 women under the age of 50 were told that they had the disease – 2,300 more than the number diagnosed in 1995, reports the BBC. Additional statistics released by Cancer Research UK show that around 7,700 women under 50 were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, increasing to 10,068 in 2010. The increase in breast cancer in women of all ages over the same period was 18 percent.

Experts are concerned modern lifestyles may be to blame for the upsurge, citing excessive drinking, overeating, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, even the use of oral contraceptives and delayed motherhood as contributing factors .

The growing trend for women to delay having children until their 30s and 40s, and breastfeed for shorter periods of time can add to the risk. Previous studies have suggested pregnancy before the age of 30 and breastfeeding reduce overall exposure to estrogen, a hormone which drives most breast cancer tumors.

Approximately 75 percent of breast tumors rely on estrogen, or are “estrogen dependent.” A cancer is called estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+ or ER-positive) if it has receptors for estrogen. This suggests that the cancer cells, like normal breast cells, may receive signals from estrogen and promote growth.

Scientists estimate four out of every 10 cases could be prevented through maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, and being more physically active.

In the US, the American Cancer Society reports breast cancer and skin cancer are the most common cancers among American women. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.

Twelve percent of women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, based on current numbers. Estimates project 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and about 39,620 of them will die from the disease in 2013.

Death rates from breast cancer in the US have been declining since about 1989, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.

[Image via Shutterstock]