Hundreds of thousands of Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and thousands will die. It’s the most common form of cancer in women in the US, representing 14 percent of all new cancer cases. But the good news is that more people are living longer following their diagnosis. Here’s a look at breast cancer by the numbers.

  • Number of new cases of breast cancer in 2014: 232,670
  • Estimated deaths from breast cancer in 2014: 40,000
  • Percentage of women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime: 12.3
  • Number of women living with breast cancer in the United States: 2,899,726
  • Percentage of women surviving for 5 years with breast cancer: 89.2
  • Percentage of cases of breast cancer that occur after menopause: 70. "The remainder occur in premenopausal women," explains Stephanie Bernik, MD, Chief of Surgical Oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
  • Median age for a woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer: 61
  • Percentage of women who have the most common type of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma, which begins in a breast duct: 70
  • Percentage of women who have the second most common type of breast cancer, lobular carcinoma, which starts in a lobule (a gland, the smallest part of a lobe) of the breast: 10.

    Other patients have a mixture of ductal and lobular breast cancer, or another, less common type. While these two types of breast cancer have about the same survival rate, lobular carcinoma is a little harder to detect with standard studies, Bernik says. "So the cancer may be larger at the time of diagnosis," she adds.
  • Number of possible stages that a breast cancer can be classified as: 5. Stage 0 is the least serious, and occurs when the abnormal cells are in the lining of a breast duct but haven't spread anywhere else. In the most advanced stage, stage IV, cancer has spread to other parts of the body, outside of the breast and lymph nodes.

    Breast cancers are often further defined with the letters a and b. A patient with stage Ia breast cancer will have a tumor that is no more than 2 cm. across, while in a patient with stage Ib breast cancer, the tumor is also no bigger than 2 cm., but the cancer has spread to lymph nodes.
  • Rate at which deaths from breast cancer have been falling each year: 1.9%. The five-year survival rate has increased from just under 75% in 1980 to 90.6% in 2006.

    "Most breast cancers are not terribly aggressive and fast growing, like melanoma or pancreatic cancer," says Leslie Montgomery, MD, director of the Breast Cancer Program at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in New York City. "Even when it has spread, with all the new medication it's possible to buy years of time for a woman." The protocol for treating breast cancer changes so quickly, she says, that a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer today has a much better chance of survival than a woman diagnosed even a decade ago.

Behind the Statistics

While a diagnosis of breast cancer is scary, it's important to realize that women are actually 10 times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer, Montgomery notes: "Your chance of getting breast cancer in your lifetime is 1 in 8," she explains. "But taking measures to protect against heart disease, like quitting smoking, eating healthy, will add more years to your life than if you are trying to prevent breast cancer."

In terms of reducing your breast cancer risk, there are certain factors that you simply cannot change, Bernik says. These include a family history of breast cancer, early menarche (starting your periods before age 12), and late menopause (after age 55), as well as your age (your odds of developing the disease climb as you get older). But unhealthy habits—like smoking—may also increase your breast cancer risk. By making certain changes, you can help lower your risk of breast cancer: "These include quitting smoking and avoiding too much alcohol," Bernik says. "You should exercise and eat well. A healthy lifestyle is just good for overall good health."

Stephanie Bernik, MD, reviewed this article.


Stephanie Bernik, MD. Phone interview. September, 2014. 

Leslie Montgomery, MD. Phone interview. September, 2014. 

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. "SEER Stat Facts Sheets: Breast Cancer." National Cancer Institute. Page accessed September 25, 2014. 

"What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer: Types." National Cancer Institute. Posted September 26, 2012.

"What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer: Stages." National Cancer Institute. Posted September 26, 2012.

"Survival Rates for Breast Cancer." American Cancer Society. Page last revised January 31, 2014.  

"Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Cannot Change." American Cancer Society. Page last revised January 28, 2014.