Factors such as age, race, and sex can all affect your breast cancer outlook. However, when this cancer is caught early on, 5-year survival rates are very high and the outlook is generally positive.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women and the most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide. About 2.3 million new cases were reported in 2020.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) predicts that 13% of women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer has gradually become more common — in fact, the incidence increased by 0.5% each year from 2008 to 2017.

When you receive a breast cancer diagnosis, your doctor will estimate the likely course and outcome of your condition. This varies from person to person, and several factors can affect your outlook, including your age and the type, grade, and size of the cancer.

Below, we’ll explore what we know about the outlook for breast cancer based on several factors, including the extent of the cancer, your age, and your race. Keep reading to learn more.

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points in this article is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.” Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article did not include data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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Survival rates can give you an overall idea of your cancer outlook, but there are some important things to know about these numbers.

Breast cancer survival rates are based on data that looks at a very large number of women with breast cancer. For example, the survival rates reported by the ACS rely on data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, which is managed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Because survival rates use data from a large sample of women, they don’t account for individual factors such as:

  • your age and overall health
  • the hormone receptor (HR) or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status of your cancer
  • how well your cancer responds to treatment
  • whether your cancer has come back (recurred) after treatment

Additionally, the outlook for women who have received a breast cancer diagnosis more recently is often better than older survival rates would suggest. This is because breast cancer treatments continually improve each year, so the outlook is gradually getting better and better.

It’s important to use survival rates only as a reference point and not to rely on them as predictors of your individual outcome.

What about breast cancer in men?

Breast cancer in men is rare. Currently, the average lifetime risk is about 1 in 726.

However, men are more likely to receive a diagnosis of advanced stage breast cancer. This is likely due to a lack of awareness about the disease in men. Because breast cancer in men is rare, more research is needed to get a better understanding of the outlook.

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Breast cancer stages explain how much the cancer has grown and how far it has spread. Generally, the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chances for long-term survival.

Stage 0
(in situ)
This is a precancerous stage with no invasive cancer cells.
Stage 1 (localized)The tumor is small and localized to the breast. There may be a small amount of cancer in nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 2 (localized)The tumor is still localized to the breast but is larger and may have spread to several nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 3 (regional)This stage includes cancers that have spread to the skin, the chest wall, or multiple lymph nodes in or near the breast.
Stage 4 (distant)This is metastatic breast cancer, meaning it has spread to one or more distant parts of the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, or liver.

The stages of breast cancer are based on the following factors:

  • tumor size
  • whether the lymph nodes contain cancer cells
  • whether the cancer has spread to more distant parts of the body

Since 2018, the following factors have also been used to determine breast cancer stage:

  • whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors and need estrogen or progesterone to grow
  • whether the cancer cells have the HER2 protein that helps them grow
  • tumor “grade,” which describes how aggressive the cells look under a microscope

Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. According to the NCI, breast cancer is most often diagnosed in women who are 65–74 years old. The median age at which women receive a breast cancer diagnosis is 63 years.

Source: National Cancer Institute. Bar chart created by Yaja’ Mulcare

Breast cancer relative survival rates compare the number of women with breast cancer to the overall population to estimate how long they are likely to live after their diagnosis.

For example, if the relative survival rate for a stage of breast cancer during a 5-year period is 90%, it means that women with that cancer are 90% as likely to survive for 5 years after diagnosis as women who do not have that cancer.

As mentioned earlier, survival rates are based on information from the SEER database. SEER does not group breast cancers into stages 0–4. Instead, it groups them into the following stages:

  • Localized: The cancer has not spread outside the breast.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread outside the breast to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or bones.

There’s a significant disparity in survival rates between white women and women of color. The chart below, courtesy of the ACS, shows 5-year survival rates by stage and race/ethnicity.

Source: American Cancer Society. Bar chart created by Yaja’ Mulcare

The NCI reports that 90.8% of women with breast cancer survive for 5 years after diagnosis. This survival rate includes all women with breast cancer, regardless of the stage.

The 5-year relative survival rate for women with localized breast cancer at the time of diagnosis is about 99%.

For women who receive a diagnosis of regional breast cancer, that figure drops to about 86%. And women who receive a diagnosis of distant breast cancer have about a 31% likelihood of surviving for 5 years.

A 2017 study showed that from 1992 to 1994 and 2005 to 2012, the 5-year relative survival rate for women ages 15–49 with distant breast cancer rose from 18% to 36%. This shows the effect of better treatment options.

Source: National Cancer Institute. Bar chart created by Yaja’ Mulcare

5-year survival rates for men

According to the ACS, the 5-year relative survival rates for breast cancer in men are:

Cancer stage5-year survival rate
distant 20%
all stages combined83%

Incidence rates and survival rates for breast cancer in women differ fairly widely across races. Below are trends noted by the NCI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Incidence rates by race

White women in the United States are most likely to receive a breast cancer diagnosis. From 2011 to 2017, 126.9 women per 100,000 received breast cancer diagnoses. Within that group, non-Hispanic white women were far more likely to receive a diagnosis than Hispanic white women.

RaceIncidence rate per 100,000
non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native107.4
non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander106.4

Survival rates by race

According to the CDC, based on data from 2020, American Indian and Alaska Native women had the lowest death rate, while Black women had the highest death rate.

This could possibly be due to a lack of access to care. Socioeconomic factors seem to affect disparities in death from breast cancer. These include:

  • poverty
  • cultural factors
  • social injustice

For example, a 2018 study found that Black women may have more difficulty than white women affording and obtaining endocrine therapy for HR-positive breast cancers to help increase their survival rates.

RaceDeath rates per 100,000
American Indian/Alaska Native15.6
Asian/Pacific Islander11.6

Importance of regular screenings for breast cancer

Regular screening can also help improve survival rates by ensuring that breast cancer is detected and treated early.

A 2021 study reported that Black and Hispanic women met the breast cancer screening guidelines from the U.S Preventive Services Task Force at a higher rate than white women.

However, the study also highlighted that not meeting the guidelines was associated with socioeconomic factors such as lower income and lack of access to health insurance. Overall, public health agencies are trying to ensure that all women are able to receive timely screening and treatment.

The most important factor that affects breast cancer survival is whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance of treating breast cancer before it advances.

Other factors also play a role, including your age, your overall health, and whether certain markers, such as HRs and HER2, are present.

Additionally, some types of breast cancer are more aggressive than others. For example, the outlook tends to be less favorable for women with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). TNBC makes up 10–15% of all breast cancers and is more likely to spread and recur.

Another more aggressive subtype of breast cancer that tends to have a less favorable outlook is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), which makes up 1–5% of all breast cancers. IBC is always diagnosed at a more advanced stage, when the cancer is at least stage 3 (regional).

Both TNBC and IBC are more common in Black women. Also, research has shown that Black women with these subtypes of breast cancer have a worse overall survival rate than white women. This is believed to be due to socioeconomic factors and disparities in access to care.

Regular screening for breast cancer can help detect it in its earliest stages. Health authorities such as the CDC recommend that women begin screening with an annual mammogram starting at about 40 years of age.

The ACS also recommends that women with a very strong family history or genetic predisposition to developing breast cancer get a yearly breast MRI in addition to a mammogram, often starting at 30 years of age.

The outlook for breast cancer is best when the disease is detected and treated early. Therefore, it’s important to have an open conversation with a doctor about your risk of developing breast cancer and when you should begin screening.

If you’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis, keep in mind that survival rates are only general statistics. They may not reflect the fact that diagnosis and treatment methods for breast cancer are improving all the time.

Also, everyone is different, and your personal outlook depends on many factors. You can talk with a doctor about your outlook to get a better idea of what to expect.