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Statistics and outlook for breast cancer

Men and women discussing breast cancer

This page is about what statistics can tell us about the outlook for people with breast cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Statistics and outlook for breast cancer

Outlook means your chances of getting better. Doctors call this prognosis. With breast cancer, the likely outcome depends on the type of breast cancer and how early or advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed (the stage). How abnormal the cells look under the microscope (the grade) can also be important and whether the cancer cells have receptors for particular cancer drugs.

We have included quite detailed information about the likely outcome of different stages of breast cancer. The statistics we use are taken from a variety of sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check every section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. They are intended as a general guide only. For the more complete picture in your case, you’d have to speak to your own specialist.

We include statistics because people ask for them, but not everyone wants to read this type of information. If you don't want to read this information you can skip to the general information about breast cancer treatments.

How reliable are cancer statistics?

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people. The statistics cannot tell you about the different treatments people may have had, or how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will affect your treatment and your outlook.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating breast cancer section.

 

 

About the information on this page

This page contains quite detailed information about the survival rates for different stages of breast cancer. We have included it because many people have asked us for this. But not everyone who is diagnosed with a cancer wants to read this type of information. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment or not, you might like to skip this page for now. You can always come back to it.

Please note that no UK national statistics are available for different stages of cancer or treatments that people may have had. The statistics presented here are pulled together from a variety of different sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check each section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. We provide statistics because people ask us for them. But they are only intended as a general guide and can't tell you about exactly what will happen in your individual case.

 

Cancer statistics in general

Unless you are very familiar with medical statistics, it might help to read our section about the different types of cancer statistics before you read the statistics below. There are descriptions of incidence, mortality and survival and what these terms mean. 

Remember that 5 year survival and 10 year survival are terms that doctors use. This doesn't mean you will only live 5 or 10 years. 10 year survival relates to the number of people in research who are still alive 10 years after diagnosis. Doctors follow what happens to people for 10 to 15 years or more after treatment in breast cancer research studies. This is so that they can compare the results of different treatments. 

Understanding statistics can be very difficult. We've tried to show them so that they are easy to follow. Some of the statistics on this page are 5 year survival figures and some are 10 year survival figures. We've said which we have used each time.

 

The overall outlook

Overall, in the UK

  • Around 98 out of every 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer (98%) live for at least a year after diagnosis
  • Around 85 out of every 100 people (85%) live for at least 5 years
  • Around 77 out of every 100 people (77%) live for at least 10 years
  • More than 64 out of 100 people (64%) are expected to live for more than 20 years

As with many other types of cancer, the outcome for breast cancer depends on the type of cancer and how early or advanced it is when it is diagnosed (the stage of your cancer). Other factors that affect outlook include how abnormal the cancer cells are (the grade) and whether the cancer cells have receptors for particular cancer drugs. 

If breast cancer is going to come back, it is most likely to do so within the first 2 years. With some other types of cancer, you are likely to be cured if your cancer has not come back within 5 years. Unfortunately, breast cancer can come back 10 or 20 years after you were first diagnosed. But, this is not common and the more time that passes since your diagnosis, the less likely it is that your cancer will come back.

The number of women dying from breast cancer has gone down significantly in the last 20 years in the UK. This is probably for a number of reasons. In particular, the UK breast screening programme is picking up breast cancer earlier and treatments continue to improve. 

Overall, the NHS breast screening programme reported in 2011 that for women whose breast cancers were picked up during screening, 83 out of 100 (83%) per cent are still alive 15 years after their diagnosis. In the group of women who had small, low grade cancers with no spread outside the breast more than 90 out of 100 (90%) have survived for 15 years or more.

 

The grade of your cancer

We know that the outlook for your cancer depends on how early it is diagnosed – its stage. But it also depends on something called the grade of your cancer. The grade means how the cells look under the microscope. 

When your doctor removes or biopsies a breast cancer, they send the tissue to a laboratory where a pathologist looks at the cells and decides what grade they are. The more like normal breast cells they look, the lower the grade. And the more abnormal they look, the higher the grade.

For breast cancer, there are 3 grades, called grade 1 (low grade), grade 2 (intermediate grade) and grade 3 (high grade). This is important because high grade cancers may be faster growing and more likely to spread. So doctors take the grade into account to help decide on the best treatment for you. There is detailed information about breast cancer grade in our question and answer section.

Doctors can work out the likely outcome (prognosis) for breast cancer using something called the Nottingham Prognostic Index (NPI). The index uses stage and grade. It doesn't include DCIS. Some doctors also use online computer programmes, such as Adjuvant Online!, to help them make decisions about the risks and benefits of particular treatments for individual people after surgery (adjuvant treatment).

 

Outlook for DCIS

DCIS means ductal carcinoma in situ and the cancer cells are trapped inside the ducts of the breast. So there is very little risk of the cancer cells spreading. So if you are diagnosed with DCIS and treated, you will almost certainly be cured.

 

Outlook by stage

The outlook for breast cancer varies according to whether the cancer is diagnosed early or when it is more advanced. The earlier a breast cancer is diagnosed, the smaller it is likely to be and the lower the chance that it has spread. The outlook will also depend on various other factors, including the grade of the cancer and whether the cells have receptors for particular hormones or biological therapies. 

Survival statistics are available for each stage of breast cancer in one area of England. These figures are for women diagnosed in the early 1990's and the outlook is better for women diagnosed now due to improvements in screening and treatment. The statistics are likely to be similar in the rest of the UK. 

For stage 1 breast cancers more than 90% of women lived for more than 5 years and more than 85% of women lived for more than 10 years. 

For stage 2 breast cancers more than 70% of women lived for more than 5 years and more than 60% of women lived for more than 10 years. 

Around 50% of women with stage 3 tumours lived for more than 5 years and 40% lived for more than 10 years. 

In about 1 in 20 women (5%), the cancer has already spread to another part of their body when they are first diagnosed. Sadly, the outlook once a cancer has spread to another body organ is not so good. It is not curable at this point, but may be controlled with treatment for some years. Women with stage 4 tumours have a 5 year survival rate of around 13%. About 1 in 10 women (10%) will live for more than 10 years.

 

How reliable these statistics are

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people.

The statistics available are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. And they don't tell us how that treatment worked for them. Many individual factors will affect your treatment and prognosis. For breast cancer, there are more and more tests that specialists take into account both to decide your treatment and to estimate how well it will work.

 

Clinical trials for breast cancer treatments

Research into breast cancer treatments is continuing to improve the outlook for people with breast cancer. There is detailed information about clinical trials on this website. You can search our clinical trials database for trials for breast cancer. Pick 'breast' from the dropdown menu of cancer types.

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Updated: 30 July 2014