How Common Is Advanced Breast Cancer?

The National Cancer Institute estimated that in 2019, there would be 271,270 new cases of breast cancer and 42,260 deaths from breast cancer in women.1,2 Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after skin cancer, and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. While breast cancer is much more common in women than in men, breast cancer can occur in men. An estimated 2,670 men were predicted to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and an estimated 500 deaths were predicted to be due to breast cancer in men.1,2

Advanced breast cancer (ABC) encompasses both locally advanced breast cancer (LABC) and metastatic breast cancer (MBC). It is estimated that approximately 10-15 percent of all new breast cancer diagnoses are LABC, and approximately 6 percent of women with breast cancer have MBC when they are diagnosed.3,4

How many people are living with metastatic breast cancer?

The estimates for how many people are living with advanced breast cancer is more difficult to estimate, as recurrence statistics are not routinely collected. While some women are diagnosed with ABC, others may experience ABC as a recurrence (when cancer comes back after treatment).

Recently, one study looked at the data to determine how many women are living with MBC, including those newly diagnosed at a later stage and women who developed metastatic disease after an initial diagnosis at an earlier stage. Researchers estimated that there were more than 150,000 women in the U.S. living with MBC as of January 1st, 2017, and 3 out of 4 of these women had initially been diagnosed with an earlier stage of breast cancer.5,6

The study found that the number of women living with MBC is increasing, and this increase is believed to be due, in part, to the aging of the U.S. population, as well as improvements in treatment. The number of women with MBC increased by 4 percent from 1990 to 2000 and by 17 percent from 2000 to 2010. Researchers estimate that the rate will continue to increase by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020.5,6

In addition, women are living longer with MBC, especially those diagnosed at younger ages (ages 15-49). While 40 percent of women currently living with MBC have had metastatic disease for two years or less, another 34 percent have lived for five years or more with MBC. The length of time that women are living with MBC is increasing, with 11 percent of women diagnosed with MBC during 2000-2004 less than 64 years old surviving 10 years or more.5,6

Who gets metastatic breast cancer?

Breast cancer is most common in women who are middle-aged or older. The risk of breast cancer increases with age, and increasing age is the strongest risk factor for developing breast cancer. Other factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer include:7

  • Having a family history of breast cancer or a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation
  • Having mammographic dense breast tissue
  • Having a personal history of breast cancer (having had it previously)
  • Certain breast changes that are detected through biopsy
  • Having previously had radiation therapy to the chest
  • Having started menstruating at a young age (before 12) or stopped menstruating at a late age (after 55)
  • Never having children
  • Having a first child after age 30
  • Long-term use (more than 5 years) of menopausal hormone therapy

While white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer, black women have a higher death rate from breast cancer than women of other ethnicities.1,2

What are the survival statistics for metastatic breast cancer?

Survival rates are based on previous outcomes of people who survive a set amount of time after diagnosis. In cancer estimates, experts use the “five-year survival rate” as a marker. However, it is important to keep in mind that many people live beyond five years after diagnosis and the statistics are not necessarily predictive for any one individual.3

When breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body (MBC), the five-year survival rate is 27.4 percent.3 It is important to remember, however, that MBC is treatable, and more women are living longer with MBC. Some live longer than 10 years after diagnosis.5,6

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: September 2019.