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Breast cancer statistics made easy

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. With breast cancer in the spotlight, you may be hearing many breast cancer statistics. Understanding how to interpret some of the most common statistics may help make the numbers more meaningful.  

It’s important to remember statistics describe breast cancer in groups of people and do not necessarily predict what will happen in an individual person. 

Breast cancer worldwide

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. It is estimated that more than 1.6 million new cases of breast cancer occurred among women worldwide in 2010.1 Learn more about rates of breast cancer around the world

Breast cancer in the United States – estimates for 2011

The table below presents the best estimates of breast cancer statistics for this year. These estimates were calculated by looking at data from years past.  

 In 2011, it is estimated in the United States there will be:2-3 

  

Women  

Men  

Number of new invasive breast cancers diagnosed* 

230,480 

2,140 

Number of breast cancer deaths 

39,520 

450 

*Does not include new cases of non-invasive breast cancers, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (learn more). 

Although more breast cancers are expected to be diagnosed in 2011 than in 2010 (207,090 new breast cancers were expected in 2010), this does not mean the rate of new breast cancers is increasing (rates have been stable since 2003).2 Rather, the rise in number of cases is due to our growing and aging U.S. population.4 The more people there are, the more cancers there will be. And because our population is living longer (so there are more older people) and older age increases the risk of breast cancer, the more new cancer we expect to have.4-5 

Incidence and mortality rates

Incidence rates

Incidence rates show the number of people in a group who will be diagnosed with a certain disease over the course of a year. Incidence rates are a good way to compare how breast cancer affects different groups of people.  

Mortality rates

Mortality rates show the number of people in a group who die from a certain disease in a year.  

Where do incidence and mortality data come from?

The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute collects data from state cancer registries and other sources. Every state health department in the U.S. has a cancer registry that collects data on cancer cases and cancer deaths from hospitals, doctors’ offices and other medical centers. Some large cities in the U.S. have their own cancer registries. Cancer registries are mainly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute. SEER uses data from a certain group of these registries to compute incidence rates for all types of cancer (including breast cancer). This process takes several years to complete. (Learn more about SEER.) 

The incidence rates below are computed from new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in 2008. The mortality rates below are computed from the number of breast cancer deaths in 2007. These are the most recent data available.  

Breast cancer incidence in the U.S.

Breast cancer in women and men

Breast cancer incidence rates are much lower among men than among women .6-7  

  

Women  

Men  

Incidence rate 

125 per 100,000 

1.2 per 100,000 

This statistic says that for every 100,000 women in the U.S., 125 developed breast cancer. For every 100,000 men, fewer than two developed breast cancer.  

From these numbers, we can see that breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women than in men (125 ÷ 1.2 = 104, or about 100).   

Breast cancer in women by age

Overall, the average age at diagnosis of breast cancer for women is 61 in the U.S. (61 for white women and 57 for African American women).6 Although younger women can be diagnosed with breast cancer, it is more common in women ages 50 and older.6-7     

  

Women ages 20-49 

Women ages 50 and older 

Incidence rate 

43 per 100,000 

340 per 100,000 

 

So, breast cancer is about eight times more common in women ages 50 and older than in women ages 20 to 49 (340 ÷ 43 = 8). 

Breast cancer in women by race/ethnicity

Overall, breast cancer incidence is 125 per 100,000 women in the U.S.6-7 However, incidence varies greatly by race/ethnicity. Non-Hispanic white women have the highest rates of breast cancer. 

 

White
(non- Hispanic) 

African American 

Hispanic/
Latina 

Asian and Pacific Islander 

Native American and
Alaskan Native 

Incidence rate  

137 per 100,000 

122 per 100,000 

79 per 100,000 

98 per 100,000 

79 per 100,000 

 

These statistics say if we followed a group of 100,000 women, 137 white non-Hispanic women in the group would have been diagnosed with breast cancer compared to about 79 Hispanic women and 122 African American women.  

Breast cancer mortality in the U.S.

Breast cancer mortality in women and men

Mortality rates of breast cancer are lower for men than for women in the U.S.6-7 This is because fewer men are diagnosed with breast cancer, not because treatment is more effective or different. 

  

Women  

Men  

Mortality rate 

22.8 per 100,000 

0.3 per 100,000 

If we followed a group of 100,000 men in the U.S. in 2007, fewer than one man in the group would have died from breast cancer. Whereas among a group of 100,000 women, about 23 would have died from breast cancer. 

Absolute risk of breast cancer

Absolute risk is a person’s chance of developing a certain disease over a certain period of time. It is estimated by looking at a large group of people who are similar in some way (in terms of age, for example) and counting how many people in the group develop the disease over the period of time. 

Absolute risk of breast cancer in U.S. women by age8 

If current age is: 

Absolute risk of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years is: 

20 

1 in 1,760 (0.06%) 

30 

1 in 229 (0.4%) 

40 

1 in 69 (1.4%) 

50 

1 in 42 (2.4%) 

60 

1 in 29 (3.4%) 

70 

1 in 27 (3.7%) 

 

If we follow a group of women aged 50 for 10 years, we would expect 1 in 42 of these women to develop breast cancer. We can say this another way. If we follow a group of 100 women aged 50 for 10 years, we would expect 2.4 of these women to develop breast cancer (2.4%).   

These absolute risks clearly show that as we get older, our chances of developing breast cancer increase. When we are 20, we have a very small absolute risk of breast cancer in the next 10 years. Our absolute risk is 0.06 percent. This means in a group of 100, fewer than one woman will develop breast cancer over 10 years (0.06%).  

When we are 60, we have a 3.4 percent chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years. This means in a group of 100 women aged 60, 3.4 will develop breast cancer (3.4%).  

Another way to compare absolute risk by age is shown in the table above. For example, one woman in a group of 1,760 women aged 20 will develop breast cancer in the next 10 years. Whereas one woman in a group of only 29 women aged 60 will develop breast cancer in the next 10 years.   

Lifetime risk of breast cancer

One absolute risk we often see is the lifetime risk of breast cancer. Lifetime risk is the cumulative breast cancer risk of a woman, assuming she lives to age 85. The lifetime risk of breast cancer is much higher than the ten-year absolute risks of breast cancer shown above. This is because lifetime risk adds up all the absolute risks over a woman's life span, up to age 85.  

Lifetime risk of breast cancer for U.S. women2-3 

1 in 8 (12.2%) 

Women in the United States have about a 12 percent lifetime risk of getting breast cancer.2-3 This means for every eight American women who live to be age 85, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. (However, not everyone lives to 85, so an individual woman’s risk may be lower.) 

Breast cancer survivors

Thanks to great advances in breast cancer treatment and early detection over the past 20 years, the number of breast cancer survivors continues to rise. Today, there are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.9 And, as we continue to make progress, we can look forward to more and more good news in statistics.  

References

  1. Forouzanfar MH, Foreman KJ, Delossantos AM, et al. Breast and cervical cancer in 187 countries between 1980 and 2010: a systematic analysis. Lancet. 2011 Sept 15. [Epub ahead of print] 
  2. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures, 2011. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2011. 
  3. Siegel R, Ward E, Brawley O, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2011: The impact of eliminating socioeconomic and racial disparities on premature cancer deaths. CA Cancer J Clin. 61(4):212-36, 2011. 
  4. Edwards BK, Howe HL, Ries LA, et al. Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1973-1999, featuring implications of age and aging on U.S. cancer burden. Cancer. 94(10):2766-92, 2002. 
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. Population profile of the United States. http://www.census.gov/population/www/pop-profile/natproj.html, 2011. 
  6. Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al. (editors). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2008. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2008/, based on November 2010 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, 2011. 
  7. Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al. (editors). SEER Fast Stats: An interactive tool for access to SEER cancer statistics. Bethesda, MD: Surveillance Research Program, National Cancer Institute. http://seer.cancer.gov/faststats, 2011. 
  8. American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, 2009-2010. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2009. 
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cancer survivors--United States, 2007. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 60(9):269-72, 2011.