Diagnosis of Breast Cancer | Research into Diagnosis, Growth and Spread

Early and effective diagnosis


Diagnosing breast cancer quickly and accurately is vital, as the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chances of survival.

Breast awareness and breast screening play an important role in early detection. Nine out of ten women whose cancers are identified through breast screening will survive for at least five years after diagnosis.

Our ambition

By 2025, we hope over 60% of breast cancers will be diagnosed before they are symptomatic.

Where we are now

We now have a ‘five point code’ breast awareness message and people are now being diagnosed earlier, thanks to breast screening, breast cancer awareness and swifter referral. Routine breast screening is available for women aged between 50 and 70 in the UK. ‘Triple assessment’ is used for diagnosis: breast examination, mammogram or ultrasound scan, core biopsy and/or fine needle aspiration of any potential tumour.

We have grade and stage information about breast tumours, on their size, growth, rate and likelihood of spread, and we have the ability to identify molecules in the cancer cells (e.g. HER2, oestrogen and progesterone receptors) that help oncologists to decide the best course of treatment. We’ve also consistently sought opportunities to promote breast awareness.

However, we can’t yet predict with full confidence which tumours, detected via screening, will develop into life-threatening cancer. So, some women may have treatment for a tumour that may never have gone on to cause a major problem (known as over-diagnosis). We need better technology and procedures to avoid this issue.

We need superior methods of measuring breast density and we need to understand how it relates to breast screening performance. And we need to ensure that women understand the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and what action to take if they have any concerns.

Our research

So far, we have funded projects worth £3 million in this area.

We will:

  • Aim to more than double our investment in this area to £7 million over the next decade, through our research programmes, and our campaigning and education work
  • Fund work which develops more tailored screening approaches for those who will most benefit, by finding accurate and practical ways to calculate individual breast cancer risk
  • Continue to fund a large-scale clinical trial to determine how effective mammography is in detecting breast cancer earlier in younger women with a family history and increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Fund research into a cutting-edge new technique, computer modelling to analyse ‘3D mammograms’, which hopes to develop a better way to identify higher breast density in women.

Collaborate with others to improve the effectiveness and reach of current messages around breast cancer signs and symptoms.