A Snapshot of Breast Cancer

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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.

Line graphs showing U.S. Breast Cancer Incidence and mortality per 100,000 Women, by race and ethnicity.  Incidence from 1991-2011 and mortality from 1990-2010 is shown. In 2011, whites have the highest incidence followed by African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics. In 2010, African Americans have the highest mortality, followed by whites, Hispanics, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Center for Health Statistics. Additional statistics and charts are available at the SEER Web site.

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.

Pie chart of NCI Breast Cancer Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2013.  Biology, 23%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 14%.  Prevention, 5%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 15%.  Treatment, 22%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 17%.  Scientific model systems, 4%.

Source: NCI Funded Research Portfolio. Only projects with assigned common scientific outline area codes are included. A description of relevant research projects can be found on the NCI Funded Research Portfolio Web site.

Other NCI programs and activities relevant to breast cancer include:

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

  • Posted: November 5, 2014