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Breast Cancer Deaths Decline for Young

Black women have smaller drop in death rate than peers of other races

February 27, 2014

Written By Robin Warshaw, Contributing Writer
Reviewed By Elena Elkin, Ph.D.

A study looking at trends in young women’s breast cancer death rates over nearly 40 years found that while rates went down, progress is needed to reduce them more. This is especially true among young black women.

Background and Reason for the Study

Breast cancer is the second leading cancer-related cause of death for 20- to 49-year-old women.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to find out how the disease affects women of that age group, by determining the incidence of deaths due to breast cancer as well as the economic effect of those shortened lives. They also wanted to provide baseline information for future studies.

Study Structure

The research team reviewed data on young women’s deaths from breast cancer in the U.S. from 1970-2008 by 10-year age groups: 20-29, 30-39 and 40-49. They also assessed data by race/ethnicity and area of country.

Analyses focused on: breast cancer death rates and yearly change in those rates; years of potential life lost (YPLL) per woman; and estimated value of income lost due to early death from breast cancer.


The researchers found that breast cancer deaths of women under age 50 significantly went down as rates of diagnosis increased at a lower rate.

  • Young black women showed a much smaller decrease in mortality rates compared with other races or ethnicities.
    • Death rates went down by 0.68 percent per year among black women, 2.02 percent per year for white women and 1.77 percent per year among women of all races and ethnicities.
  • In all racial/ethnic groups, death rates declined much more in the youngest women, aged 20-29, than in women aged 30-49.

Although findings showed poorer survival outcomes for younger compared with older women (as shown in other studies), the researchers pointed out that “over time, more are surviving from this disease.” They suggest this may be the result of increased use of tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer from coming back in premenopausal women, those who still have their periods. The use of adjuvant chemotherapy and other treatments may also play a role, they say.

In addition to smaller declines in death rates among black women, their rates were significantly higher during years when deaths were decreasing overall. The researchers said this might be due in part to estrogen receptor-negative disease being diagnosed more often in black women, who also tend to have more aggressive tumors. Women with hormone-negative breast cancer do not benefit from taking tamoxifen.      

All deaths from breast cancer cause loss that cannot be calculated. Yet researchers measure the economic impact to society of such deaths. In this study, the researchers looked at years of potential life lost, or YPLL, to help policy makers consider how to invest resources to address the problem of early deaths because of breast cancer. This study showed:

  • 225,866 U.S. women under 50 died from breast cancer over four decades
  • nearly 8 million YPLL, or more than 35 years of potential life lost per woman
  • a total lifetime productivity loss of $5.5 billion annually or $1.1 million for each woman

What This Means for You

Many advances in treatment have improved survival for young women during the time period assessed in this study. More needs to be done, especially to equalize outcomes for black women to match those of other women, and to further reduce breast cancer deaths for all.

Following your treatment plan is important for your future health. At, we have content available to meet your specific needs in different sections of our website for the  newly diagnosed; people with  metastatic breast cancer; African-Americans; people with  triple-negative breast cancer; and  young women. You may also want to read our free Guide to Understanding Treatment Decisions.

These findings also suggest early deaths from breast cancer have a significant economic impact on society, in addition to the great personal loss. If you are interested in advocating for more government funding to study breast cancer in young people, you could use these findings to support your viewpoint.

Ekwueme, DU, Guy Jr., GP, Rim, SH, et al. Health and Economic Impact of Breast Cancer Mortality in Young Women, 1970-2008. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2014; doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.016.

This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.