A Snapshot of Breast Cancer
Incidence and Mortality
In the United States, breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women. Each year, a small number of men are diagnosed with and die from breast cancer. Although the overall rate of diagnosis of breast cancer increased in the 1990s, it began decreasing in 2000 and has remained steady in recent years. The overall breast cancer death rate has dropped steadily over the past 20 years.
The incidence of breast cancer is highest in white women for most age groups, but African American women have higher incidence rates before 40 years of age and higher breast cancer mortality rates than women of any other racial/ethnic group in the United States at every age. The gap in mortality between African American and white women is wider now than it was in the early 1990s.
Studies have identified numerous risk factors for breast cancer in women, including increasing age, personal history of certain benign breast diseases or breast cancer, early menstruation, late menopause, never having been pregnant or having a first pregnancy after age 30, use of oral contraceptives, family history of breast cancer, presence of certain inherited genetic changes, history of radiation therapy to the chest, long-term use of combined hormone therapy, use of diethylstilbestrol (DES), increased breast density, alcohol use, and obesity after menopause. For women at high genetic risk due to a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, bilateral prophylactic mastectomy can reduce the risk of breast cancer by at least 95 percent. Risk factors for male breast cancer include obesity, a rare genetic condition called Klinefelter syndrome, and the presence of excess breast tissue. Mammograms and clinical breast exams are commonly used to screen for breast cancer. Standard treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.
Assuming that incidence and survival rates follow recent trends, it is estimated that $17.2 billion1 will be spent on breast cancer care in the United States in 2014.
NCI’s Investment in Breast Cancer Research
To learn more about the research NCI conducts and supports in breast cancer, visit the NCI Funded Research Portfolio (NFRP). The NFRP includes information about research grants, contract awards, and intramural research projects funded by NCI. When exploring this information, it should be noted that approximately half of the NCI budget supports basic research that may not be specific to one type of cancer. By its nature, basic research cuts across many disease areas, contributing to our knowledge of the underlying biology of cancer and enabling the research community to make advances against many cancer types. For these reasons, the funding levels reported in NFRP may not definitively report all research relevant to a given category.
Other NCI programs and activities relevant to breast cancer include:
- NCI and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences are jointly funding the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP) to conduct transdisciplinary research on the effects of early environmental exposures on breast development and breast cancer risk.
- The Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers bring together researchers from multiple disciplines to address major questions and barriers in cancer research. One center is studying how physical forces and changes in cell or tissue mechanics influence breast cancer development.
- The Breast and Gynecologic Cancer Research Group conducts and supports research on the prevention and early detection of breast, cervix, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.
- The Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics conducts population and multidisciplinary research to discover the genetic and environmental causes of cancer, including studies addressing male and female breast cancer.
- The Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium (CPTAC) is characterizing the the entire set of proteins expressed by breast cancer biospecimens and integrating this information with genomic data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). This research will provide a better understanding of cancer biology and potentially facilitate the discovery of protein targets with diagnostic and therapeutic utility.
- Seven breast-cancer-specific Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) are conducting translational research to move results from the laboratory to the clinical setting. The SPOREs are supporting research on the development of novel agents, technologies, and markers for better diagnosis, prognosis, screening, prevention, and treatment of breast cancer.
Selected Advances in Breast Cancer Research
- Mammary acini, the milk-producing structures in the mammary gland, can interact mechanically over long distances, and these interactions can facilitate the transition to invasive breast cancer. Published December 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- A rare population of somatic cells was isolated from disease-free human breast tissue and exhibits remarkable pluripotency. Published March 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- The movement of ions and water into and out of the cell contributes to cell migration in confined microenvironments and is a potential mechanism for the migration of metastatic breast cancer cells. Published April 2014. [PubMed Abstract]
- In a mouse model of human breast cancer, increased expression of an inflammatory protein, nitric oxide synthase 2, enhanced the progression and metastasis of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. Published April 2014. [PubMed Abstract]
Additional Resources for Breast Cancer
- What You Need To Know About™ Breast Cancer
Describes treatment options, types of cancer doctors, second opinion, follow-up care, and sources of support for someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Breast Cancer Home Page
Information about breast cancer treatment, prevention, genetics, causes, screening, clinical trials, research and statistics from the National Cancer Institute.
- BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing
A fact sheet about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, what to do if a person tests positive for one of these alterations, and consequences of genetic testing.
- Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool
An interactive tool to help estimate a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
- Surgery to Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer
A fact sheet that describes mastectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy, two prophylactic surgeries that may be performed to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women at very high risk; the situations in which they may be considered; and nonsurgical options.
- Breast Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of breast cancer.
- Clinical Trials for Breast Cancer
- 1 Cancer Prevalence and Cost of Care Projections, in 2010 dollars.