The rate of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK has hit the 10,000 mark for the first time. 

This is according to new statistics released by Cancer Research UK that shows in 2010, just over 10,000 women under 50 were diagnosed in the UK with the disease, compared with 7,712 women in 1995 – an 11% rise.

This means that one in five breast cancer cases are in now women under 50 - the total number of women of all ages diagnosed each year is now just under 50,000.

But CRUK says that despite this rise: “The good news is that fewer women under 50 than ever before are dying from the disease”, largely because of better treatment and research, it adds.

The rise in younger women reflects the overall steady increase in the numbers of breast cancer cases diagnosed in women of all ages – an 18 per cent growth in incidence rates over the same time period.

CRUK says it’s not clear why rates of breast cancer are rising in this age group but increasing alcohol intake and hormonal factors such as having fewer children and having them later in life, and increased use of the contraceptive pill may be playing a role. 

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “Breast cancer is more common in older women but these figures show that younger women are also at risk of developing the disease. 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. It’s more likely not to be cancer but if it is, detecting it early gives the best chance of successful treatment.”

But despite the increased numbers of women under 50 diagnosed with breast cancer, the rate of women in this age group dying from the disease has fallen by 40% since the early 1990s.

In this period the death rate from breast cancer in women under the age of 50 was nine per 100,000 women in the UK - but by late 2000, this had fallen by nearly half to five women in every 100,000. 

Sara Hiom added: “The number of cases in women under 50 diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing slowly, but thanks to research, awareness and improved care more women than ever before are surviving the disease.” 

Hiom also laid particular importance on Cancer Research UK’s work in the laboratory, which has helped develop a number of drugs for the disease including hormone therapy Tamoxifen and Roche’s HER2 inhibitor Herceptin.

Hiom adds that its trials of the new aromatase inhibitors also paved the way for the development of AstraZeneca’s Arimidex, “all of this is helping to give women with breast cancer more treatment options,” she says.