Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women and is also now the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. Globally, about 2.3 million new cases were reported in 2020, accounting for 11.7 percent of new cancer diagnoses worldwide, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The ACS predicts that 13 percent of women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer incidence has been slowly rising in the United States, where it has increased by 0.5 percent each year from 2008 to 2017.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that about 281,550 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, and about 43,600 will die of the disease. However, due to improved detection and treatment, deaths have dropped 41 percent from 1989 to 2018, according to the ACS.

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 there are a number of factors that affect prognosis, including a person’s age and the type, grade, and size of the cancer.

Below, we’ll explore what we know about the prognosis of breast cancer based on several factors, including the extent of the cancer, your age, and 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.

Survival rates can be useful for giving you an overall idea of your cancer prognosis. However, there’s some important things to know about these numbers.

Breast cancer survival rates are based on data on the outcomes of a 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 NCI.

Because survival rates use data from a large sample of women, they do not 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 more recently diagnosed with breast cancer is often better than survival rates for those diagnosed in previous years. This is because breast cancer treatments continually improve each year.

Survival rates also do not reflect recent advances in treatment. As such, it’s important to use survival rates as useful bits of information — do not rely on them as predictors of your individual outcome.

What about breast cancer in men?

Breast cancer in men is rare — less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases — but it can still occur, according to the ACS. A man’s risk of getting breast cancer during his lifetime is about 1 in 833. It’s worth noting that the incidence of male breast cancer has increased slightly, from 1.0 case per 100,000 men from 1975 to 1979 to 1.2 cases per 100,000 men from 2012 to 2016.

In addition, men are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer. This is most likely due to a lack of awareness of the disease in men. Because of its rarity, more research is needed to get a better understanding of breast cancer prognosis in men.

The stages of breast cancer relate to how much the cancer has grown and how far it’s 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, chest wall, or multiple lymph nodes in or near the breast.
Stage 4 (distant)This is metastatic breast cancer, meaning it’s spread to one or more distant parts of the body, most commonly to 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 metastasized, meaning it’s spread to other, 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,” meaning how aggressive the cells look under the microscope

Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. According to the NCI, breast cancer is most often diagnosed in women ages 65 to 74 years old. The median age that women are diagnosed with breast cancer is 63 years old.

Additionally, of the women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States from 2014 to 2018, less than 2 percent of them were under 35 years old.

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

Breast cancer survival rates compare the number of women with breast cancer to the number of women in the overall population to estimate the amount of time women with breast cancer are likely to live after they’re diagnosed.

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

As we mentioned earlier, survival rates are based on information from the SEER database, which the NCI maintains.

SEER does not group breast cancers by stages 0 through 4. Instead, it groups them by the following stages:

  • localized: when the cancer has not spread outside of the breast
  • regional: when it’s spread outside the breast to nearby structures or lymph nodes
  • distant: when it’s spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or bones

It should be noted that there’s a substantial racial disparity gap in survival rates between white women and Women of Color, especially for late-stage breast cancer diagnoses. The chart below, courtesy of the American Cancer Society, shows 5-year survival rates by stage and race/ethnicity.

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

The NCI reports that 90.3 percent of women with breast cancer survive 5 years after diagnosis. This survival rate includes all women with breast cancer, regardless of the stage.

The 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with localized breast cancer is 99 percent.

For women who are diagnosed with regional breast cancer, that figure drops to about 86 percent. Women who are diagnosed with distant breast cancer have about a 29 percent likelihood of surviving for 5 years.

A 2017 NCI study showed that from 1992 to 1994 and 2005 to 2012, the 5-year survival rate for women ages 15 to 49 years old diagnosed with distant breast cancer doubled, from 18 percent to 36 percent.

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

5-year survival rates for men

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

Cancer stage5-year survival rate
Localized97%
Regional83%
Distant 22%
All stages combined84%

10-year and 15-year survival rate

The ACS reports that the 10-year average survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is 84 percent.

Additionally, the average rate for women surviving at least 15 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer is 80 percent. Statistics are not available for survival rates by cancer stage.

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

Incidence rates by race

White women in the United States are most likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Between 2011 and 2017, according to the NCI, 131.8 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.

RaceIncidence rate per 100,000
White131.8
Black124.7
Asian/Pacific Island105.1
Hispanic100.3
American Indian/Alaskan Native81.7

Survival rates by race

According to the CDC, American Indian and Alaskan Native women had the lowest death rate, at 10.6 per 100,000 women. Black women had the highest death rate, at 26.8 per 100,000 women, despite being the second most likely group to get breast cancer.

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

  • poverty
  • culture
  • 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
Black27.1
White19.4
Hispanic13.7
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 actually met U.S Preventative Services Task Force breast cancer screening guidelines at a higher rate than white women.

However, the study also highlighted that not meeting the guidelines was associated with socioeconomic factors like 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 metastasized, or spread to other body organs (stage of cancer). The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance of treating breast cancer before it advances.

Other factors can also influence the outlook for breast cancer. These include things like your age overall health, and whether certain markers like HRs and HER2 are present.

Additionally, some types of breast cancer are more aggressive than others. For example, outlook tends to be poorer for women diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

TNBC makes up 10 to 15 percent of all breast cancers and is more likely to spread and recur. Treatment options are also more limited for this aggressive subtype of breast cancer.

Another more aggressive subtype of breast cancer that tends to carry a poorer outlook is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), which makes up 1 to 5 percent 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, when compared with white women, research has shown that Black women with these subtypes of breast cancer have a worse overall survival. 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. Most organizations like the CDC, recommend that women have the option to begin screening with a mammogram annually starting around 40 years old.

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

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

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, 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 with your doctor about your outlook to get a better idea of what to expect.