It’s the UK’s most common cancer, and in Europe it has the sixth highest incidence rate.
Survival rates can vary greatly, however, according to Cancer Research UK, 78 per cent of women will survive it for a decade or longer.
This is double what it was 40 years ago thanks to advances in research.
Now scientists might have discovered a way to give patients a more reliable idea of how long they may live for.
Research by Brunel University London has linked a new group of genes to a poor prognosis – the term for the likely course of a medical condition.
The findings mean doctors could be more precise about prognosis, and be able to provide better treatments as well as allow patients to plan their future.
Professor Asoke Nandi, of Brunel University London, said: “It is very encouraging.
“The genes we have discovered can give prognosis which is as good as, and looking better than, what is currently available for prognosis.
“It could in future help develop a standard test to give a more accurate result.”
By looking at how clusters of genes behave at low oxygen levels, the researchers were able to provide more precise predictions.
They identified two main sub-clusters of genes working in opposite ways – one sub-cluster makes cancer cells grow and multiply more quickly, while the other is oxygen-sensitive.
Professor Nandi said: “Our discovery of two clusters of oppositely behaving genes from multiple experiments under hypoxia-related conditions came from an exploratory study – we weren’t looking for anything specific.
“And this could not have been achieved by any other existing method. So this opens up amazing new opportunities – not just in genomics but in brain signal processing and, indeed, in any studies related to clustering.
“Prognosis is becoming increasingly important in breast cancer both for patients and for clinicians to prepare appropriate treatments as well as to offer appropriate support”.
According to the NHS, surgery is usually the first