Skip to main content
Home » Breast Health » What the Latest Statistics Tell Us About the Future of Breast Cancer
Breast Health

What the Latest Statistics Tell Us About the Future of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide, affecting an estimated 2.3 million women this year alone.


Dorraya Al-Ashry, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer, Breast Cancer Research Foundation

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, which declared our country’s “war on cancer.” Tremendous progress has been made against this disease, and over the last 30 years in particular we have seen a 40 percent decline in breast cancer mortality thanks to earlier diagnoses and advances in precision medicine.

Today, the overall five-year survival rate for early-stage (localized) breast cancer is now just under 100 percent. This is impact we can measure in millions of survivors.

But we have now reached a critical inflection point.

Rising numbers

The World Health Organization recently reported that breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide, affecting an estimated 2.3 million women this year alone. In the United States, where breast cancer has been the most common cancer for many years, 281,550 women and 2,650 men will be diagnosed in 2021 alone.

The estimated number of American women living with metastatic breast cancer also rose to 168,000 this year from 155,000 last year, and there’s an alarming rise in metastatic breast cancer diagnoses in younger women. Because of delayed screenings and doctors’ visits this past year due to the pandemic, we will no doubt experience a significant increase in otherwise preventable later-stage diagnoses in the years to come.

44,000 Americans will die from breast cancer this year — 120 people every day. These 2021 figures have also risen from last year. They reveal continuing, devastating racial disparities: Black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women despite being diagnosed at similar rates.

We are at a turning point — if we are to continue gaining ground on the disease, we must solve metastatic breast cancer and, simultaneously, uncover definitive ways to prevent the disease from taking root in the first place. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) is leading the charge with groundbreaking research on both ends of this spectrum.

Precision medicine

To advance progress on prevention and reduce breast cancer incidence, BCRF hopes to replicate the success of precision medicine — therapies targeted to an individual person’s cancer, resulting in more effective treatment — into the arena of prevention. Precision prevention takes an innovative approach that considers individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles.

A mammogram only tells part of the story, so BCRF researchers are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to uncover hidden clues in mammograms. They plan to pair this technology with a rich source of patient data to develop a precise risk assessment model that identifies those at risk of developing any type of breast cancer, including the most aggressive types.

BCRF’s AURORA project, the largest global effort to study metastatic breast cancer, is making groundbreaking discoveries that will change the clinical management for metastatic breast cancer and reduce breast cancer deaths by identifying patients at risk of metastasis before the cancer has spread. By conducting deep molecular profiling of breast cancers and matched metastases, AURORA investigators are on course to identify new therapeutic targets in metastatic breast cancer, the greatest challenge in breast cancer today.

But even as trends in incidence and mortality are rising, funding for lifesaving research is severely threatened. These new statistics paint a clear picture: we need to keep advancing and expanding our impact by supporting, sustaining, and increasing research if we are going to reverse these alarming trends and prevent more deaths from breast cancer.

Next article