Report: Breast Cancer Death Rates Down 39% Since 1989

cover and several pages of the Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2017-2018

A new report from the American Cancer Society finds that death rates from breast cancer in the United States have dropped 39% between 1989 and 2015. This translates to 322,600 deaths avoided during those 26 years. African-American women still have higher breast cancer death rates than white women nationally.

The findings are published in Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2017-2018 and in Breast Cancer Statistics, 2017 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The reports provide detailed analyses of breast cancer trends and current information on known risk factors for the disease; factors that influence survival; the latest data on prevention, early detection, treatment; and ongoing research.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancer. By the end of 2017, an estimated 252,710 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and an estimated 40,610 women will die from it. Breast cancer risk generally increases with age. About 8 of every 10 new breast cancer cases and almost 9 of every 10 breast cancer deaths are in women 50 years old and older.

On January 1, 2016, more than 3.5 million women were living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer. Some of them were cancer-free, while others still had evidence of cancer and may have been undergoing treatment.

Race and ethnic factors

The breast cancer death rate during 2011 through 2015 was 42% higher in black women than in white women.

Highest and Lowest Breast Cancer Rates

 White women and black women have higher breast cancer incidence and death rates than women of other racial and ethnic groups. Asian and Pacific Islander women have the lowest incidence and death rates.

Racial differences nationwide

White women get breast cancer at a slightly higher rate than black women. During 2010 through 2014, the overall incidence rate was 2% higher in white women. But black women are more likely to get breast cancer before they are 40, and are more likely to die from it at any age. They also have higher rates of triple negative breast cancer, which as an aggressive kind of breast cancer with lower survival rates. The breast cancer death rate during 2011 through 2015 was 42% higher in black women than in white women.

Racial differences by state

Breast cancer death rates are higher in black women than white women in every state. The excess death rate among black women ranges from 20% in Nevada to 66% in Louisiana. However, 7 states did not have statistically significant differences in death rates. In 4 of those states (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Rhode Island), the similar death rates may be because the numbers of deaths among black women were very small, making it harder to compare. In 3 states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware), the authors say the closing gap may represent improvements in access to health care.

According to Carol DeSantis, MPH, Director, Breast and Gynecological Cancer Surveillance for the American Cancer Society, “A large body of research suggests that the black-white breast cancer disparity results from a complex interaction of biologic and nonbiologic factors, including differences in stage at diagnosis, tumor characteristics, obesity, other health issues, as well as tumor characteristics, particularly a higher rate of triple negative cancer.

“But the substantial geographic variation in breast cancer death rates confirms the role of social and structural factors, and the closing disparity in several states indicates that increasing access to health care to low-income populations can further progress the elimination of breast cancer disparities.”

Prevention and early detection

The overall declines in breast cancer death rates since 1989 have been attributed to both improvements in treatment and early detection by mammograms. Following American Cancer Society guidelines for breast cancer screening can help women find breast cancer earlier when treatments are more likely to be effective.

Women can help lower their risk of breast cancer by making healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight. Studies show obesity and excess weight increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start.
  • Be physically active. Growing evidence suggests that women who get regular physical activity have a lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who get no exercise. Doing even a little physical activity beyond your regular daily routine can have many health benefits.
  • Limit alcohol. Many studies have confirmed that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women. If you do drink alcohol, the American Cancer Society recommends women limit themselves to no more than 1 drink per day.
  • Avoid tobacco. Some studies have shown that heavy smoking over a long time might be linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Research also suggests that risk may be greater for women who begin smoking before they give birth to their first child. Quitting has numerous health benefits.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2017-2018. Published October 3, 2017. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Breast Cancer Statistics, 2017, Racial Disparity in Mortality by State. Published October 3, 2017 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author Carol E. DeSantis, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.


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