From nuns to night shifts:
8 interesting facts about breast cancer

Fact 1

Breast cancer has been called the “nun’s disease” because of the high number of nuns affected.

Lifelong nuns, like all women who never have children, are at an increased risk of dying from breast, ovarian and uterine cancers, compared with mothers. A woman's risk of getting these cancers increases with the number of menstrual cycles she experiences.

Fact 2

Breast cancer occurs in both dogs and cats; it tends to be far more aggressive in cats

It is not only humans who suffer from breast cancer, some animals do too. It is more common in dogs than cats, but tends to be more aggressive in cats than dogs.

Fact 3

Wasp dung was used as a treatment for breast cancer

Insect faeces featured heavily in ancient remedies for breast cancer. An Egyptian papyrus recommended a mixture of cow’s brain and wasp dung to be applied to breast tumours for four days. Insect faeces were still considered one of the most advanced treatments for breast cancer up until the Middle Ages. Thankfully, treatments have advanced a great deal since then.

Fact 4

The first record of a mastectomy offered for breast cancer was over 1,500 years ago

The first record of a breast mastectomy was in A.D. 548 on Theodora, Empress of Byzantine. Significant progress in our understanding and treatment of breast cancer in recent decades has seen a dramatic reduction in the use of ‘radical’ mastectomy (where the breast, underlying chest muscle and lymph nodes are removed), which was the standard surgical approach to breast cancer right up until the 1960s.

Fact 5

Men get breast cancer too. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000

Many people do not realise that men have breast tissue and that they can develop breast cancer. But breast cancer is less common in men because their breast duct cells are less developed than those of women and because they normally have lower levels of female hormones that affect the growth of breast cells.

Fact 6

Breast cancer is more common in the left breast than the right

The left breast is 5 - 10% more likely to develop cancer than the right breast. The left side of the body is also roughly 5% more prone to melanoma (a type of skin cancer). Nobody is exactly sure why this is.

Fact 7

Most women now survive breast cancer (at least in developed countries)

Huge progress has been made in recent years in breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer management across risk assessment, prevention, surgery, radiation, and other treatment, has changed dramatically. Death rates from breast cancer in more developed countries have been declining in recent years, and now survival rates are 80% or over in countries like the US, Sweden and Japan. However, survival rates remain below 40% in low-income countries.

Fact 8

Shift work may increase risk of breast cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that women who worked night shifts for 30 years or more were twice as likely to develop breast cancer. However, women who work nights are advised not to panic. It’s worth noting that no link was found between higher breast cancer risk and periods of night work which were shorter than 30 years.

All photography is for illustrative purposes only and all persons depicted are models.