Breast Cancer: Survival Rates and Prognosis

By

Chris Iliades, MD

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A first concern after a breast cancer diagnosis is often about survival—beating the disease. The medical term for how long you will live after diagnosis is your "prognosis." For many women, the prognosis is good. More than 8 of 10 women diagnosed and treated for breast cancer are still alive 10 years later. 


Understanding "Five-Year Survival Rates"

The stage of your breast cancer is a measure of how advanced the cancer is. This helps determine treatment. It also affects the estimate of your prognosis.

Breast cancer stages go from 0 to 4. They're often written in Roman numerals, I to IV. Stage 0 means the cancer has not spread beyond the breast. Stage IV means the cancer has spread outside the breast to other parts of the body. 

Doctors who study and treat breast cancer use five-year survival rates when talking about prognosis. They assign each stage a five-year survival rate. The five-year survival rate is a measure of how likely a woman with breast cancer is to survive five years after diagnosis, compared to a woman in the general population without breast cancer. There are many variables that affect the five-year survival rate within each cancer stage. 

However, here's a general way to think about five-year survival rates:

  • For stage 0 and stage I cancers, the expected five-year survival is 100%. This means the person with breast cancer is just as likely as a person without breast cancer to survive five years beyond their diagnosis.

  • For stage II cancer, when cells have not spread outside the breast, the average five-year survival is 99%. 

  • For stage III cancer, when cells have spread but not far beyond the breast, the average five-year survival is 85%.

  • For stage IV cancer, when cells have spread to other parts of the body, the average five-year survival is 25%. This means the person with breast cancer is 25% as likely as a person without breast cancer to survive five years beyond their diagnosis.

What’s Your Prognosis?

It's very important to know that five-year survival rates are only averages. Many people who survive five years will continue to survive for many more years. Your personal prognosis depends on more than your cancer stage. Other factors that can influence your prognosis are:

  • Your age
  • Your overall health
  • The type of cancer cells you have
  • How you respond to your treatment

For more information, ask your oncologist about how these factors affect your individual prognosis, including how your specific type of cancer may respond to treatment.  

In general, breast cancer prognosis is improving every year. The number of people dying from breast cancer has been going down steadily since 1989. There are close to three million American women living today who survived breast cancer.

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Medical Reviewers: Farrokh Sohrabi, MD Last Review Date: Jan 20, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Breast Cancer: Statistics. American Society of Clinical Oncology. http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/breast-cancer/statistics
  2. Understanding Breast Cancer Survival Rates. Susan G. Komen. http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/ChancesForSurvivalBasedOnCancerStage.html
  3. Breast Cancer Survival Rates by Stage. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-survival-by-stage
  4. Breast Cancer Stages. National Breast Cancer Foundation. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-stages

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