Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer to affect women, and incidence is growing, with about 1.7 million new cases worldwide every year.
In the United States alone, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) projects that 12.4 percent of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. They estimate that some 246,660 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, and that 40,450 women will die of the disease. The American Cancer Society (ACS) also predicts that about 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and that 440 men will die from the disease.
Survival rates by breast cancer stage
The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who are alive five years after receiving a diagnosis. For women with breast cancer, 89.7 percent survive for five years after diagnosis. This survival rate includes all women with breast cancer regardless of the stage or subtype.
That figure varies widely by what stage the cancer is at the time of diagnosis. The stages of breast cancer relate to how much the cancer has grown and how far it has spread.
Stage 0 is a precancerous stage and represents atypical or abnormal cells, but no invasive cancer cells. Stage 1 is when the tumor is small and localized to the breast. Stage 2 is when the tumor is smaller than 2 centimeters (cm) but has spread to the lymph nodes, or is 2 to 5 cm but has not spread to the lymph nodes. Stage 3 breast cancer includes various categories, including cancers that have spread to the skin, chest wall, or multiple lymph nodes in or near the breast. Stage 4 is metastatic breast cancer, meaning it has spread to one or more distant parts of the body, most commonly to the bones, lungs, or liver.
Generally the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chances for long-term survival.
The NCI reports that 61.4 percent of women are diagnosed at the local stage or stage 1. At this point, the 5-year survival rate is very high: between 98.8 and 100 percent. For women who are diagnosed at stage 2, that figure drops to 93 percent. Women who are diagnosed at stage 3 have a 72 percent likelihood of surviving for five or more years, and women who are diagnosed at stage 4 have a 22 percent likelihood.
Survival rates by age
Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. Of the 60,290 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each year, less than 3 percent of them are below the age of 40. The median age that women get a breast cancer diagnosis is 62 years. The average age of death from breast cancer is 68.
Image source: National Cancer Institute / seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2013/browse_csr.php
Survival rates by race
Race may also play a role. White women are most likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Between 2009 and 2013, 128 per 100,000 white women were diagnosed with the disease. There is, however, variation within that group: non-Hispanic white women were far more likely to have been diagnosed than Hispanic white women.
Image source: National Cancer Institute / seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html
Black women are the second most likely group to get breast cancer (125.2 per 100,000 women), followed by Asian and Pacific Island women (97.3 per 100,000), Hispanic (92.4 per 100,000), and American Indian and Alaska Native women (81.2 per 100,000).
Survival outcomes also vary according to race and ethnicity. Asian women have the highest 5-year survival outcomes, at 90.7 percent. Within that community, Japanese women have the highest survival rate (93 percent) and Filipina women the lowest (89 percent).
Non-Hispanic white women have the second highest 5-year survival rate, at 88.8 percent, followed by American Indian and Alaska Native women (85.6 percent), Pacific Islander women (85.4 percent), and Hispanic women (83.8 percent). Black women have the lowest 5-year survival rate, at 77.5 percent, despite being the second most likely group to get breast cancer.
Breast cancer around the world
In 2012, there were an estimated 1.7 million new cases of breast cancer worldwide. And about 508,000 women die from the disease around the world each year.
Both incidence and survival rates vary greatly from region to region. Women in developed countries generally have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer than women in middle- and low-income countries.
North America and Western Europe have the highest likelihood of developing breast cancer, with over 90 women per 100,000 developing the disease. Countries in Eastern and Central Africa, as well as in Eastern and South-Central Asia, have the lowest incidence, with less than 20 women per 100,000 developing the disease.
Image source: American Cancer Society / cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/document/acspc-044738.pdf
Survival rates are highest in North America, Scandinavia, and countries like Brazil, Finland, and Israel. Survival rates average about 60 percent in middle-income countries, and 40 percent in lower-income countries.
Other factors that affect survival rates
Some types of breast cancer are more aggressive than others. Five-year survival rates tend to be lower for women diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). TNBC is more likely to spread and recur, especially in the first three to five years. After five years, that risk may be lower compared to other subtypes of breast cancer. African-American women are more likely to get this more aggressive subtype of breast cancer.
Trends in cancer
In general, the overall cancer death rate in the United States has gone down significantly over the last two decades, and overall by 23 percent between 1991 and 2012. For breast cancer in women, the death rate has decreased by 36 percent between 1989 and 2012.
And over the last 30 years, the 5-year relative survival rate for breast cancer has gone up by 21.3 percent, according to the ACS. In 1975, the 5-year survival rate for women was 75.2 percent, but in 2008, it was 90.6 percent. This is largely due to increased screening efforts, which lead to early detection and treatment.
If you’re newly diagnosed, keep in mind that survival rates are only general statistics. They may not reflect the fact that methods to diagnose and treat breast cancer are improving all the time. And everyone is different. Your personal outlook depends on many factors, so talk to your doctor about your prognosis to get a better idea of what to expect.