Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of malignant cancer in women in Ireland and the second most common cause of cancer death in women in Ireland. On average, there are 2,883 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Ireland while 711 women died from the disease in 2013.

Source: NCRI Cancer Factsheet. Female Breast 


Risk of breast cancer

The causes of breast cancer are not yet clearly understood but certain women may have higher risk factors of developing the disease. A risk factor is anything that increases a woman’s chance of developing the disease. The following are known risk factors:

  • Age: The chance of developing breast cancer increases as a woman gets older.
  • Family History: A woman’s risk of breast cancer is higher if female relatives have had the disease, especially if they were a first degree relative and under 50 years at diagnosis. However, only about 5-10% of all breast cancers are caused by family history. Breast cancer can be inherited by a faulty gene, which include the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. There are specialist breast clinics for women who may be concerned about a family history of breast cancer. Contact your GP (doctor) for advice.
  • Personal History: A woman who has had breast cancer in one breast has an increased chance of getting this disease in her other breast.
  • Reproductive and Menstrual History: Women who have never had children, women who were over 35 years when having her first child, women who have had menstruation at an early age and had a late menopause are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • HRT: Women who take HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) for a number of years after the menopause have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Lifestyle: Women who are obese after the menopause have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Also, some studies show that gaining weight after the menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. Being physically active throughout life may help to lower risk. A diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit and low alcohol consumption may provide some protection.

Breast awareness

BreastCheck recommends that women are breast aware. This means knowing what is normal for you, so that if any unusual change occurs, you will recognise it. The sooner a change is noticed the better, because if cancer is found early, it is easier to treat and a woman has a good chance of recovery. Get into the habit of looking at and feeling your breasts from time to time.

Be breast aware

  • Know what is normal for your body.
  • Know what changes you should look for.

Changes you should look and feel for:

  • Any lumps or thickening in your breast.
  • Skin – dimpling, puckering, or redness.
  • Nipple – pulled in or flattened.
  • Around the nipple – rash, flaky or crusted skin.
  • A change in the shape or size of your breast.
  • Swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.
  • Constant pain in one part of your breast or armpit.

For further information on breast awareness visit

BreastCheck breast screening is for women without symptoms. BreastCheck recommends women go to a doctor for advice if any breast changes are noticed.