The American Cancer Society (ACS) produces a biennial report on breast cancer in the United States, covering incidence, mortality, survival, and screening by race/ethnicity. The 2017-2018 report reveals some heartening trends — as well as areas of concern. This wrap-up examines the report’s highlights.
Who gets breast cancer?
According to the ACS, about 316,120 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer (both invasive and non-invasive) in 2017, with a median age of 62 (meaning about half are under age 62, and about half are over 62). About 40,610 women were predicted to die of the disease, with a median age at death of 68.
Women over age 50 are the population most at risk: about 81 percent of breast cancer diagnoses (and 89 percent of deaths) occur in this older age group.
Many women under age 40 experience breast lumps, but the vast majority of those don’t signal breast cancer. Only about 4 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses occurred in women under 40 this year; and, even though breast cancer is generally more aggressive in younger women, about 92 percent of this age group survives the disease.
Can diagnosis predict outcome?
The typical woman diagnosed with breast cancer immediately wonders what her chances of survival are. Overall, about 99 percent of women diagnosed with early-stage disease (localized to the breast) in 2017 will survive for at least 5 years. The rate declines to 85 percent for women whose cancer has spread to underarm lymph nodes, and it declines to 27 percent when the disease has spread beyond the lymph nodes to another part of the body.
The size of the tumor affects these statistics, however; for example, a woman whose cancer has spread into underarm lymph nodes, but whose tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller, can expect to see her 5-year survival rate increase to 95 percent.
In 2017, approximately 40,610 American women died of breast cancer. That sounds like a lot; even a single woman dying is one too many. Still, the overall breast cancer survival rate this year was about 87 percent.
As of Jan. 1, 2016, there were more than 3.5 million female breast cancer survivors in the United States. Just over 2 percent of the total female population (about 2 in 100 women) in the U.S. is currently dealing with or has had breast cancer.
In the past quarter of a century, the breast cancer death rate has declined by 39 percent, a fact the ACS attributes to earlier diagnosis and improved treatment. This decline translates to an extra 322,600 women being alive today.
According to the ACS, while the survival rate has increased among all ethnic groups, non-Hispanic white women continue to survive at a higher rate than non-Hispanic black women. Thankfully, the disparity hasn’t widened since 2011.
In a handful of states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware — white women and black women have statistically equal survival rates. Rhode Island, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa also show equal survival rates, though this may “reflect a lack of statistical power:” The number of black women dying of breast cancer may be too small to accurately make a comparison.
What about men?
While male breast cancer is extremely rare in the U.S., it does exist. About 2,470 American men were expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017; 460 men were expected to die of the disease this year. Contrast this with prostate cancer, the second-most common cancer in men (after lung cancer): 161,360 diagnoses and 26,730 deaths in 2017.
A family history of breast or ovarian cancer, as well as obesity, are breast cancer risk factors for men, just as they are for women.
“Breast Cancer Facts & Figures.” American Cancer Society. Accessed November 18, 2017.
DeSantis, Carol E., et al. “Breast cancer statistics, 2017, racial disparity in mortality by state.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Accessed October 3, 2017.
“Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed December 03, 2017.
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PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.