The number of British women under 50 having breast cancer diagnosed annually has topped 10,000 for the first time according to Cancer Research UK.

The charity says one case in five in the UK is among the under-50s although fewer than ever in that age group are dying of the disease. Higher alcohol intake and child birth patterns could be factors. From 1993 to 1995, 38 women per 100,000 had breast cancer diagnosed compared to 42 per 100,000 in 2008 to 2010. 

In total more than 49,500 women of all ages had breast cancer diagnosed in 2010 compared with 37,107 in 1995.  The majority of cases did occur in older women but the incident rate of breast cancer in women under 50 rose by 11% over that period.

In 2010 10,068 women under the age of 50 in the UK were told that they had the disease, that‘s 2,300 more than the number diagnosed in 1995. It’s not clear exactly what factors are behind the rise but increased alcohol intake, hormonal factors such has having fewer children and having them later in life and an increased use of the contraceptive pill may be playing a role.

Cancer Research UK’s organisation director said that women of all ages who notice anything different about their breasts including changes in size, shape or feel, a lump or thickening, nipple discharge or rash, dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin should see their GP straight away even if they have attended breast cancer screening. While it may well not be cancer, early detection gives the best chance of successful treatment if it is.

Cancer Research UK has said that as breast cancer has affected younger people in the public eye such as Kylie Minogue this may have encouraged women to come forward sooner but it would not explain the rise in the number of cases.

Julie Crossley a medical injury lawyer at Ashton KCJ comments: “This is a worrying trend and could well be due to the fact that women are having their families later in life so are taking the contraceptive pill for much longer than they would have been 20 or 30 years ago. Clearly the clinicians are aware of the statistics and are encouraging younger people who would not necessarily report a change in their breasts to see their GP immediately. Raising public awareness and hence early diagnosis can hopefully save lives”.