Women who have smoked are at greater risk of developing breast cancer in later life – even if they gave up the habit decades earlier.

According to a study, women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer from the disease after the menopause – when most cases are diagnosed – if they smoke.

The earlier a woman starts smoking, the greater her risk, and it remains high for 20 years after she has given up.

Overall, if she has smoked she is 9 per cent more likely to develop the disease, according to the U.S. research.

The study also suggests that decades of passive smoking increases the risk of breast cancer by 32 per cent, particularly if the exposure occurred during childhood.

Around 46,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year, and one in eight British women will develop the disease during their lifetime.

Researchers led by Dr Juhua Luo from West Virginia University and Dr Karen Margolis from the HealthPartners Research Foundation in Minneapolis studied data collected between 1993 and 1998 from a sample of almost 80,000 women aged 50 to 79
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