THE NUMBER of women under the age of 50 being diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK has exceeded 10,000 for the first time, according to figures released by Cancer Research UK.

One in five breast cancer cases now involves women under the age of 50, as the latest UK figures show the total number of women diagnosed each year is now approaching 50,000.

In the West Midlands, about 800 women under the age of 50 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, while the total number diagnosed across all age groups in the region is 4,300.

But the good news is that fewer women under 50 are dying from the disease than ever before, largely because of the development of better treatment.

About 7,700 women under 50 in the UK were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, but by 2010, more than 10,000 were diagnosed with the disease, an 11 per cent increase.

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.

It is 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.

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 per cent since the early 1990s.

Stuart Bourne, Worcestershire County Council head of health protection and population healthcare, said: “There have been great improvements in the number of women surviving breast cancer and this is mainly due to the introduction of the national breast screening programme and greater awareness of the symptoms.

“While the increase in the survival rate of women with breast cancer is good news, the disease remains a significant cause of death and it is vitally important women remain vigilant to the signs and symptoms. In particular, it is important women are comfortable with self-examination in order to spot the signs and symptoms early.

“Of equal importance is making sure women attend screening appointments.”