There are more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in the United States. Ongoing advances in treatment are helping to improve breast cancer survival rates as well as the quality of life for people living with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survival rates are based on hard data but it is important to remember they reflect averages. The individual outlook for every person diagnosed with breast cancer is different and should be discussed with a doctor.
Contents of this article:
Breast cancer outlook
Breast cancer survival rates are improving as treatments continue to advance.
Often, the first thing many people want to know when they learn about a breast cancer diagnosis for themselves, or for loved ones, is data on breast cancer survival rates.
These figures reflect the experiences of large numbers of people, and do not indicate how long a specific person will live.
Additionally, breast cancer survival rates:
- Show the percentages of people who live at least a certain number of years after their first diagnosis. Many people live longer.
- They do not show the health impact of recent improvements in breast cancer treatment.
- They report only the results for the broad stages of breast cancer, as in stages 1 or 2, but not 1a.
- They do not take into account an individual's age, health, or hormone receptor status.
To help clarify the terms used, the American Cancer Society add an additional note. This is that relative breast cancer survival rates compare the life expectancy of women with the disease to the life expectancy of women in general.
When reviewing current findings on breast cancer survival rates, it is important to understand this data in context. This means taking account of everything else that is known about an individual's breast cancer and related health factors.
5-year survival rates by stage
The overall 5-year survival rate for people with breast cancer is 89 percent.
The American Cancer Society report that 5-year survival rates break down by stage as follows:
- Stage 0-1: Close to 100 percent survival rate. Approximately 61 percent of all breast cancers are diagnosed at this stage.
- Stage 2: Relative survival rate of 93 percent.
- Stage 3: Relative survival rate of 72 percent. Many women with this stage breast cancer are treated successfully.
- Stage 4: Relative survival rate of 22 percent. Many different treatment options are available.
10-year survival rate
On average more than 80 percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer live for 10 years or longer.
However, the exact breakdown of 10-year survival rate by stage is not known. Scientists are currently trying to model these statistics, according to this article.
Factors affecting outlook
A mammogram may be used to help diagnose breast cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say about 220,000 women and 2,000 men in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
A diagnosis of breast cancer involves more information than whether or not a specific growth is cancerous. A wide range of tests and measurements are taken during the diagnosis process. This information provides the framework needed for a more thorough understanding of breast cancer survival rates.
Doctors review a number of factors before presenting a breast cancer diagnosis and commenting on an individual's outlook. These include:
- stage of cancer, indicating if it has spread
- type of breast cancer
- grade of cancer
- HER2 status
- hormone receptor status
- growth rate of cancer cells
- likelihood of recurrence
A doctor will determine the different stage of a breast cancer by examining:
- the size of the tumor
- whether it has spread to nearby tissue
- whether the cancer has reached the lymph nodes
- if it has spread to other parts of the body
The stages of breast cancer are ranked on a scale of 1 to 4, with sub-stages identified by letters. These help doctors to predict survival rates.
In general, the lower the number and the earlier in the alphabet the letter is, the smaller, more contained, and more easily treated a cancer is.
The stage of a breast cancer at diagnosis is one of the most important factors in predicting breast cancer survival rates.
In situ or invasive
One key factor is whether the breast cancer is in situ or invasive. In situ means the cancer has not spread. Invasive means the cancer has spread into other areas of the breast.
Other common types of breast cancer include:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): Starts and stays in the milk ducts.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): Starts and stays in the milk-producing glands.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC): Moves beyond the milk-producing glands.
- Subtypes of IDC: Includes tubular, medullary, mucinous, papillary, and cribriform.
Less common forms include:
- Inflammatory breast cancer: Seen in only 1-3 percent of cases.
- Paget's disease of the nipple: Seen in 1 percent of cases.
- Phyllodes tumors of the breast: Grow quickly and often are not cancerous.
Cancer cells themselves are graded on a scale of 1 to 3. A cancer's grade reflects how much difference there is between an individual's cancer cells and healthy cells. It also indicates how quickly the cancer cells seem to be growing.
Cancers with a grade of 1 usually grow more slowly and are considered less likely to spread. In breast cancer, the slower the growth rate, and the less likely the cancer is to spread, the better the survival rates are.
Proteins and hormones
Treatment may be determined by the cancer's hormone receptor status.
Proteins and hormones can affect the outlook for people with breast cancer.
In roughly 1 out of 4 cases of breast cancer, the HER2 gene makes excess amounts of the HER2 protein. This can make these cancers more likely to spread, to return, and grow more quickly.
However, there are many medications available to treat this specific kind of breast cancer. People are advised to discuss their HER2 status with their doctor. Reviewing testing and treatment options can have a significant impact on long-term health.
Further tests to determine a cancer's hormone receptor status also help doctors make effective treatment choices. This can have an impact on outlook. Treatment according to hormone receptor status differs as follows:
- Hormone-receptor positive cancers: Can be treated with hormone therapy medication.
- Hormone-receptor negative cancers: Will not respond to hormone therapy.
- Triple-positive cancers: Can be treated with medications targeting estrogen, progesterone, or HER2.
- Triple-negative cancers: Will not respond to therapy targeting hormones or HER2.
Triple negative breast cancer
Triple-negative breast cancer is more difficult to treat than other forms of the disease, particularly in the first 3-5 years.
This type of cancer does not respond to estrogen, progesterone, or the HER2 protein. As a result there is a lower 5-year survival rates for people with triple-negative breast cancer.
Research suggests women with triple-negative breast cancer have a 77 percent 5-year survival rate.