Breast Cancer Survival Rates for all types of breast cancers
Breast cancer survival rates and prognosis are determined by so many different factors that it is always difficult to make generalizations.
NOTE: this page has been recently updated with the most up-to-date statistics. Prognosis has improved so much because breast cancer treatments have become more effective since this page was first created. Remember that survival is better than listed here. Most importantly, ask your oncologist and specialist team, who keep current with the latest statistics and best treatments.
Why Breast Cancer Survival Rates are going to be higher than the most up-to-date Statistics
It is important to remember that the breast cancer survival rates that are listed on this page are, in reality, going to be higher.
This is because the breast cancer survival rates data is gathered from a large number of people with the disease over a 5 year period. Hence, even the most up-to-date statistics are still going to be a little out of date.
Thus, with the ongoing improvements and advancements in breast cancer screening, research, early detection and advanced tailored treatment, the outcomes at present will be even better than the statistics listed here.
Predictors for Breast Cancer Survival Rates
It has to be remembered that every single breast cancer patient has their own, unique scenario. Thus, prognosis and breast cancer survival rates are a rough guide ONLY.
However, there are consistent predictors for breast cancer survival rates and these include:-
- The stage of breast cancer at the time of diagnosis
- The Grade of the breast cancer
- A patient’s age at diagnosis
- The hormone receptor status
- Oncogene Expression (genes that can cause cancer)
- Cell type of the tumor
- Race and ethnicity
Breast Cancer Survival Rates according to the Stage of the cancer
Breast cancer ‘stage’ of course refers to the spread and size of the cancer at diagnosis. Stage zero means the breast cancer is still ‘in situ‘ or contained. Whereas, stage IV means that the cancer has metastasised (or spread) to other body regions. The stage of the cancer at diagnosis affects prognosis.
The statistics below are taken from the from the SEER database (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program) of the National Cancer Institute between the years 1975 to 2010. (Published in 2012)
The 5 year survival rate means that within 5 years around 93 people out of 100, diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, will still be alive.
5 Year Survival Rate by Stage
|Stage of breast cancer||5 year survival rate|
|Stage II||Around 93%|
|Stage III||Around 72%|
Age at the time of diagnosis affects breast cancer survival rates
It has always been known that curiously, young women (under 40 at diagnosis) have a poorer prognosis than older ones
Indeed, one cohort study examined 4,453 women with breast cancer between 1961 and 1991 who were all treated at the same center.
This study found that both ends of the age spectrum fared less well. So, women under the age of 40 years at diagnosis and those over 80 years had a statistically poorer prognosis.
However, for younger women, this may be due to the fact that they often present with higher grade tumors that tend to be more aggressive and less likely to be hormone receptor positive. This means that the breast cancer may not respond as well to treatment.
So, it is important to bear in mind other factors discussed in this post, such as stage, grade and hormone receptor status play an important role in prognosis.
Breast cancer survival rates are affected by tumor grade
Breast cancer ‘grade‘ refers to the size and shape of the malignant breast cancer cells. If the breast cancer cells look very different than normal breast tissue cells, and somewhat random in appearance, they are called ‘poorly differentiated’ and described as ‘high grade’.
There are three main breast cancer grades and these are as follows:-
- Grade 1: The cancer cells are well differentiated and look the most like normal cells. These type of cancers tend to be slow-growing.
- Grade 2: These cancer cells are moderately differentiated. This means that the cells look less like normal cells and tend to grow faster.
- Grade 3: Poorly differentiated cells do not appear like normal cells at all and tend to be very fast growing. Hence, the affect on prognosis.
Microscopic Images of Ductal cell carcinoma in Situ (DCIS)
Grades 1, 2 and 3
Higher grade breast cancers tend to have a poorer prognosis.
You will be able to find the Grade of your tumor on your pathology report.
Hormone receptor status influences breast cancer survival rates
The hormone receptor status of a breast tumour is not usually included in formal discussions of prognosis.
Each breast tumour will potentially have a different hormone receptor status. When a breast cancer tumour tests ‘positive’ for the hormones estrogen and progesterone, it implies two things:-
- Is the bad news: The cancer has the potential to grow very quickly because it responds to the fluctuating hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
- Is the Good news: The tumor will very likely be highly responsive to chemotherapy and hormonal therapy treatments.
Therefore, due to improvements in treatments, overall survival rates will be higher for hormone receptor ‘positive’ breast tumors than for those that are hormone negative.
Oncogene expression (HER-2) may negatively affect breast cancer outcome
A relatively new addition to the discussion of breast cancer survival statistics and prognosis is oncogene expression.
An oncogene is a tiny fragment of genetic material which is carried in a chromosome, and can ’cause’ normal cells to become malignant.
The oncogene HER-2 in particular has be linked to more aggressive breast cancers.
Around one third of all breast tumours produce the HER-2 oncogene, and these patients tend to have higher rates of recurrence and lower overall breast cancer survival rates.
According to a 2013 Canadian scientific study, the overall 5 year survival rate of HER-2 positive breast cancer is 88.6%. Furthermore, the relapse free survival rate for 5 years is 79.4%.
Breast Cancer ‘type'(or sub-type) is determined by cell shape and appearance
Breast cancers or ‘carcinomas’ are mainly of epithelial cell origin.
Epithelial cells are the ‘lining’ (or walls) of most of our organs and vessels.
However, there are quite a few very rare types of breast cancers which are comprised of non-epithelial cells (for example, muscle cells). Furthermore, a great many breast cancers are actually not ‘pure’, but rather a mixture of different types of cells.
In general, there are six types of ‘standard’ breast carcinomas, and statistically, some of these tend to show a better prognosis than others.
The six most common types of breast cancer are as follows:-
- ‘General’ infiltrating ductal carcinoma (NOS or not otherwise specified)
- Infiltrating lobular carcinoma (forming in the lobules of the breast and not the ducts)
- Mucinous or colloid breast carcinoma
- Medullary breast carcinoma
- Tubular breast carcinoma
- Inflammatory breast carcinoma
Certain breast cancer sub-types have a better statistical prognosis
In general, tubular, mucinous and medullary breast carcinomas have a better prognosis than the other sub-types.
The table below gives a very general approximation of the survival rates that may be associated with the different breast cancer sub-types.
However, please bear in mind that these figures are a rough generalization only and survival will always be determined by the individual characteristics of each breast cancer and each patient.
Nonetheless, the ‘relative’ aggressiveness of the different breast cancer sub-types can be interpreted from the table.
(Note: DCIS is not really a sub-type; it simply indicates that the breast cancer has been detected at the earliest possible stage (stage 0) and is almost always near 100% curable.)
|breast cancer sub-type||Estimated Overall Survival|
|DCIS-ductal carcinoma in situ)||98.8% to 100%|
|Tubular breast carcinoma||almost 100% (15 year survival)|
|Infiltrating lobular carcinoma||90% (5 year survival)|
|Infiltrating ductal carcinoma||88% (5 year survival)|
|Medullary breast carcinoma||91% (10 year survival)|
|Mucinous breast carcinoma||90% (10 year survival)|
|Inflammatory breast carcinoma||65% (5 year survival) 35% (10 year survival (2009 figures)|
Tubular Breast Carcinoma
Tubular breast carcinoma is so named because the affected cells have a distinct tubular formation when examined through the microscope.
In general, tubular breast carcinoma is very rare and accounts for only around 1 to 4% of all invasive cancers. Tubular breast cancer usually affects women above the age of 50 years.
A recent small medical study has shown a very favourable prognosis for this type of cancer, especially if it is of the ‘pure’ tubular type. Medical studies show a 15 year survival rate of almost 100%.
Infiltrating/invasive lobular breast carcinoma
Infiltrating lobular carcinoma (ILC) usually appears as a subtle thickening in the upper-outer breast quadrant.
As the name suggests, these tumours originate mostly in the breast lobules (the glands that produce milk) rather than the lining of the breast ducts.
Invasive lobuluar cancer is a less common type of breast cancer than invasive ductal cancer. This cancer accounts for about 10% of all invasive breast cancer cases.
Prognosis for infiltrating and invasive lobular breast carcinomas will naturally be influenced by tumor size, grade, stage and hormone receptor status..
However, lobular breast cancers, when positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors, tend to respond very well to hormone therapy.
The overall breast cancer survival rates for infiltrating lobular carcinoma, when matched by stage, are a little higher than for ductal carcinoma for the first 5 years.
Survival rates range from about 77% to 93%, but on average the 5 year survival rate was estimated at about 90%.
Infiltrating/Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)
Infiltrating ductal carcinoma of the generic type (NOS) is by far the most common breast cancer type, and represents about 78% of all cases.
The term ‘infiltrating’ vs. ‘invasive’ is somewhat related to the cancer stage; if the ductal carcinoma is infiltrating the duct wall, then it will usually be termed ‘infiltrating’. However, if the cancer cells are found beyond the duct wall and are starting to ‘invade’ the surrounding tissue, then it will be termed ‘invasive’ ductal carcinoma.
Obviously, an invasive ductal carcinoma suggests a more serious situation and the survival rates will most likely be slightly lower. On mammogram, infiltrating ductal breast carcinomas often can appear star-shaped or ‘stellate’.
The 5 year survival rate for invasive ductal carcinoma was estimated at around 88% (1993 to 2003). However, a more recent Korean study carried out between 1994 and 2010 puts the overall 5 year survival rate at 94.9%
Tumor size is a really important prognostic factor and can really make a difference. Breast tumors larger than 5cms had a 50 to 60% survival rate over 20 years. Compare this with those who had a tumor of less than 1cm who have a 93 to 98% overall survival rate at 20 years.
Medullary Breast Carcinoma
Medullary carcinoma of the breast is another rare type and accounts for around 1 to 7% of all invasive breast cancers.
The cancer is so-named because the malignant cells resemble the ‘grey matter’ in the medulla of the brain.
This type of breast cancer has a favourable prognosis despite the fact that these tumors are often large, high grade and hormone receptor negative.
Medullary cancer tends to affect women at a younger age than average, mid 40’s to early 50’s.
A medical study found that the overall survival rate after 10 years for medullary breast cancer was around 91%. However, as for all these subtypes, the size, grade, stage and hormone receptor status and general health of the patient all play an important role in prognosis.
It should be noted that for stage I medullary breast cancers, and even in general when the axillary lymph nodes are disease free, the survival rate can be as high as 95%.
Mucinous Breast Carcinoma (Colloid)
Mucinous breast carcinoma is characterized by poorly defined cells and a lot of mucous production.
This type of cancer is very rare, and as mentioned, many cancers will have a mixed cell type. However, ‘pure’ mucinous cancer accounts for only around 2% of all primary breast cancers.
The prognosis is highly favorable in most cases because mucinous breast cancer rarely spreads to the lymph nodes. A recent medical study estimates the overall survival rate at around 90%.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer is very rare and accounts for only 1 to 5 % of all invasive breast cancers in the United States.
This type of breast cancer is usually very aggressive and progresses quickly. Most inflammatory breast cancers are already at stage III or IV at diagnosis.
Like medullary breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer is often diagnosed in younger women and is usually negative to estrogen and progesterone receptors but often HER-2 positive.
Traditionally, inflammatory breast cancer had a poor prognosis. Indeed, an earlier version of this post had cited a 3 year survival rate at just 32% to 42%.
Several research studies between the years of 2004 and 2009 estimated a 5 year survival rate of 65% and a 10 year survival rate of 35%.
However, a 2015 medical study compared survival trends of women with inflammatory breast cancer before and after the year 2006.
The good news is that the 3 year survival rate for those treated before October 2006 was around 63%, but for cases after 2006 the 3 year survival rate has risen to 82%.
The above statistics, are indeed a testimony to the improvement in targeted treatment, in this case, particularly HER-2 therapy.
- Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Krapcho M, et al, SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2007. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2010 (Retrieved 02 April 2017) https://seer.cancer.gov/archive/csr/1975_2007/
- Narod SA, Iqbal J, Miller AB. (2015) Why have breast cancer mortality rates declined? Journal of Cancer Policy: Sept 2015: Vol:5 8-17: (Retrieved 02 April 2017) http://www.journalcancerpolicy.net/article/S2213-5383(15)00006-5/abstract