What Are the Prognosis and Survival Rates for Advanced Breast Cancer?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2021

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. The prognosis, or forecast of the outcome of the disease, and survival rates are estimated by the stage of the disease.1

Advanced breast cancer (ABC) includes both locally advanced and metastatic breast cancer (MBC). This generally includes stages III and IV. Breast cancer that is caught in its earliest stages has very high survival rates. However, survival rates decline when breast cancer is considered advanced.2

Prognosis and survival rates

Prognosis is unique to each person with breast cancer. When looking at statistics, researchers look at large numbers of people. These numbers can be distressing. However, the statistics do not necessarily predict what will happen to any 1 person.

Survival rates are determined by the previous outcomes of people who survive a specific amount of time after diagnosis. In advanced breast cancer, experts use “5-year survival rate” as a marker for prognosis.2

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It is important to remember that many people live beyond this 5-year marker after diagnosis of breast cancer. These statistics are not predictive for any 1 person. Statisticians also look at the past to determine these rates. The statistics do not consider how treatments are evolving and improving over time. The survival rates also are based on the initial diagnosis. They do not apply to breast cancers that recur or spread after initial diagnosis.

Factors influencing prognosis

The prognosis and survival rate of breast cancer depends on many factors, including:3,4

  • Stage of the breast cancer
  • Type of breast cancer
  • How fast the breast cancer is growing (proliferation rate)
  • Whether the breast cancer is positive or negative for hormone receptors
  • Whether the breast cancer is positive or negative for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)
  • Whether the breast cancer has just been diagnosed or if it has recurred
  • The age, menopausal status, and general health of the person

Survival rates by stage

Survival rates of breast cancer are greatly influenced by the stage of the disease. In general, when breast cancer is confined to the breast, it is considered localized. About 63 percent percent of breast cancers in women are first diagnosed at this stage.2

If the breast cancer has spread into surrounding tissues, including the lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone, it is considered regional. These may also be considered locally advanced breast cancers. About 29 percent of all breast cancers are first diagnosed at the regional stage.2

Metastatic breast cancer (also called stage IV) is defined by cancer having spread from the breast to other parts of the body. About 6 percent of all breast cancers are first diagnosed at this stage.2

The 5-year relative survival rates are as follows:2

  • Localized breast cancer – 99.0 percent
  • Regional breast cancer – 85.8 percent
  • Metastatic breast cancer – 29 percent

It is important to remember that these statistics do not consider the specifics for any 1 person. These 5-year survival rates are based on past data. The above numbers are currently based on data from 2011–2017 that was collected by the National Cancer Institute. These survival rates are based on the initial diagnosis. The rates do not include breast cancers that have come back after treatment.2

Treatment for ABC continues to evolve, and people are living longer with the condition. One study found women are living longer with MBC, including those diagnosed at younger ages (ages 15 to 49). About 40 percent of women living with MBC cancer at the time of the study had their disease for 2 years or less. Another 34 percent had lived for 5 years or more with MBC. The length of time that women are living with MBC is increasing. Data shows 11 percent of women under 64 years old diagnosed with MBC between 2000 and 2004 surviving 10 years or more.5,6