In our latest information team blog, Amy-Louise looks at how to check your risk of breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, about 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. It is more common in women who are 50 and over, but can also affect younger women. Breast cancer can also affect men, although this is rare. About 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Sometimes, breast cancer can run in families. This blog is for you if you are concerned you may be at risk of inheriting breast cancer through a hereditary gene.

Breast cancer and genetic risk

A very small proportion of women (5-10%) and men (20%) with breast cancer have an altered breast cancer gene that increases the inherited risk of breast cancer. These genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. The chance of there being a family link is increased when:

  • a number of family members have been diagnosed with breast cancer or related cancers (such as ovarian cancer)
  • the family members are closely related
  • they were diagnosed at a younger age.

If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, it is natural to be worried about your own breast cancer risk.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’d like to encourage people concerned to check their risk by using OPERA (Online Personal Education and Risk Assessment). This interactive tool asks you around 10 questions about your personal and family history of breast cancer. It summarises the answers to assess your inherited risk of breast or ovarian cancer. The assessment only takes a few minutes and can be completed in the comfort of your home. You can take these results and use them to have a conversation about your breast cancer risk with your GP.

To complete the assessment, visit

Breast cancer signs and symptoms

It’s also important to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Tell your GP straight away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • a lump in the breast (for men, usually a lump under the nipple or areola)
  • a  change in the size and shape of the breast
  • dimpling of the skin or swelling in the breast tissue
  • a nipple that’s turned in (inverted).

Other symptoms can include:

  • a rash (like eczema) on the nipple
  • swelling or a lump in the armpit
  • discharge from the nipple.

Further information

We have lots of free information about breast cancer and cancer genetics. Our leaflet, Are you worried about breast cancer?, provides information on how your genes and family history can affect your risk of developing breast cancer. Our booklet on cancer genetics has more detail on cancer genes, inherited cancers, genetic testing and coping with having a high risk.

For more detailed information about breast cancer, please order a copy of Understanding breast cancer in women or Understanding breast cancer in men.

Cover images of Macmillan's breast cancer resources

You can also take a look at our Breast cancer information or contact our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in).

Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo