MOST women know a family history of breast cancer can significantly increase their own risk of the disease.
But far fewer are aware of an easy to spot sign which poses an even greater threat.
A survey of nearly 2000 women found the majority were unaware of the high cancer risk having dense breasts pose.
Dense breasts tend to be firm and have relatively high amounts of glandular tissue compared with fatty tissue.
This glandular tissue contains a higher concentration of breast cells than other breast tissue, which means there are more cells that can become cancerous.
Dense breast tissue can also make a breast scan difficult to read, as any lumps or areas of abnormal tissue are harder to see.
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Almost 70 per cent of women in the survey saw breast density as a less consequential risk factor than family history.
But women with dense breasts face a risk of breast cancer four times higher than women with the lowest breast densities, according to the research published in JAMA.
By comparison, having a family member who's had breast cancer is associated with just double the risk of the disease.
Breast cancer is the most common form of the illness in women and cases are rising.
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The sooner it's detected the greater chance there is that treatment will be successful.
According to Cancer Research, there are around 11,500 breast cancer deaths in the UK each year, equating to 32 every day.
The causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, but there are several other known risk factors which experts believe influences someones chances of developing the disease.
The 8 signs of breast cancer you need to know
According to Breast Cancer Now, the signs of breast cancer include:
- A lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit
- A change to the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
- A change in the colour of the breast – the breast may look red or inflamed
- A nipple change, for example it has become pulled in (inverted)
- Rash or crusting around the nipple
- Unusual liquid (discharge) from either nipple
- Changes in size or shape of the breast
- Pain in the breast or armpit – although this alone is not usually a sign of breast cancer, look out for persistent pain that's there all the time
You should see a doctor if you notice any change to the breast.
Even though it probably is not cancer, catching it early will improve the odds of survival.
Secondary breast cancer is when cancer cells spread from the breast to other parts of the body. At this point, it is no longer curable.
Some of these you cannot do anything about, but there are some you can change.
According to the NHS these are:
Like with most cancers, risk of developing breast cancer increases with age.
The condition is most common in women over age 50 who have been through the menopause.
About eight out of 10 cases of breast cancer happen in women over 50.
2. Hormones and hormone medicine
The female hormone oestrogen can sometimes stimulate breast cancer cells and cause them to grow and in some cases mutate.
Your risk of developing breast cancer may rise slightly with the when the amount if of oestrogen your body increases, for instance when taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or the contraceptive pill.
There is no increased risk of breast cancer if you take HRT for less than 1 year.
But if you take HRT for longer than 1 year, you have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who never use HRT.
And when it comes to the contraceptive pill, the risk starts to decrease once you stop taking the pill, and your risk of breast cancer is back to normal 10 years after stopping.
Starting your period earlier and reaching menopause later also increases risk of breast cancer – as it leaves the body exposed to higher levels of oestrogen for longer.
3. Being overweight or obese
Being overweight increases your chances of developing many different cancers, including breast cancer, research has shown.
One study found the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer increased by 11 per cent for every 5kg (11lbs) of weight gained among women who had never used hormone replacement therapy.
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