Breast cancer life expectancy

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and you’re concerned about how long you’ll live, you’re not alone. Even if doctors say “your situation looks good,” many people worry about life expectancy after a cancer diagnosis.

A number of factors go into a general picture of how long someone might live after a breast cancer diagnosis. These include how far the cancer has spread, how the cancer is behaving, how well the treatment is working, health status before diagnosis, age, and more. And when you're looking for answers, a surival statistic might seem like dependable information. But statistics are not personalized to your specific situation. Statistics help researchers understand how breast cancer affects large groups of people, not any individual person. Average percentages often reflect thousands of people in research done years ago — but never just one person, today.

While we can generally say that someone with a stage 0 breast cancer has a better survival rate than someone with stage IV breast cancer, we can also say that people being diagnosed with breast cancer right now may have better survival rates than current numbers show. That's because it takes time to track and record survival rates, and these numbers are often a few years behind new advances in treatment development.

In 2019, the American Cancer Society reported that U.S. breast cancer death rates decreased by 40 percent between 1989 and 2017. While we can't say for sure why this is, says lead study author Carol DeSantis, MPH, it could be tied to improved treatments.

Here are the American Cancer Society's latest relative survival rates:

Relative survival rates for U.S. women diagnosed with breast cancer

  • 91 percent at 5 years post-diagnosis
  • 84 percent after 10 years
  • 80 percent after 15 years
Source: Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2019-2020, American Cancer Society

On this page, we'll help you understand how survival rates are estimated and different ways that survival rates are tracked, including by age and by race and ethnicity.

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It's important to remember that your situation could be very different than what is shown in the numbers on this page. If you have concerns about how long you'll live, talk with your healthcare team about the individual factors that contribute to your overall life picture.

How survival rate is estimated

Survival rates for all cancers are estimated by looking at data on large numbers of people who have a certain type of cancer. Researchers gather information about the people over periods of time, such as 5 years, 20 years, or longer.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer, like the American Cancer Society, uses U.S. survival rates based on data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, known as SEER, of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI works with the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries to gather this information from every state in the U.S. on an ongoing basis. 

For breast cancer, the SEER database uses 5-year relative survival rates. A relative survival rate in breast cancer means that women who have the same stage and type of breast cancer are compared to women in the overall population who do not have cancer. For example, if women who have a certain stage and type of breast cancer are found to be about 90 percent as likely as women who don’t have that cancer to live at least 5 years after being diagnosed, then the 5-year relative survival rate for the diagnosed women is 90 percent. 

Survival rates can help your medical team get a better understanding of your prognosis: How likely it is that you can get to a point of having no traceable signs of cancer in your body. Following people for at least 5 years is an important part of survival rate calculations. Researchers are studying different types of breast cancer over long periods of time to see whether there are differences in the chances some types of breast cancer will recur.

Survival rate by stage

Breast cancer stage describes how far cancer has spread in your body. Different stages of breast cancer have different survival rates. 

The SEER database does not use the American Joint Committee on Cancer TNM system for cancer stages that you may see on your pathology report. Instead, the SEER database uses stages known as localized, regional, and distant:

  • Localized means there is no evidence that cancer has spread beyond the breast.
  • Regional means that cancer was found in nearby lymph nodes or structures outside the breast.
  • Distant means the cancer has traveled to remote parts of the body such as bones, liver, or lungs. 

Here are the SEER relative 5-year breast cancer survival rates, from the American Cancer Society website:

 SEER stage

 5-year relative survival rate

 Localized

 99%

 Regional

 86%

 Distant

 27%

 All SEER stages combined

 90%

*These rates are based on women who were diagnosed between 2009 and 2015.

It’s important to know that the survival rate for your type of breast cancer may be different than what’s represented in this chart. Here are some reasons why:

  • The numbers in this chart represent women diagnosed and treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments improve, survival rate numbers can change. 
  • The numbers you see here do not factor in certain cancer characteristics such as grade, hormone-receptor status, or HER2 status. 
  • These numbers also don’t consider how well a cancer treatment may be working in your body.

Survival rate by demographics

Breast cancer survival rates and mortality numbers are different depending on the group of people being studied. Two survival-related demographics tracked in the SEER breast cancer database are age and race.

Survival rate by age

One way researchers look at breast cancer across demographics is by age. Keep in mind that just like the survival rates appearing earlier on this page, the numbers reflected in this table are averages.

Breast cancer 5-year relative survival rates by age and stage at diagnosis (women, all races) 2010-2016

 

 All ages

 Ages <50

 Ages 50-64

 Ages 65+

 Stage at diagnosis

 Percent surviving

 Percent surviving

 Percent surviving

 Percent surviving

 Localized

 98.9

 97.1

 98.4

 100.0

 Regional

 85.7

 87.3

 87.5

 81.7

 Distant

 28.1

 37.6

 28.2

 23.1

While these numbers provide a broad look at survival by age, there are details that were not considered here. For instance, we know that women age 45 and under are more likely to be diagnosed with biologically aggressive breast cancers, and this has a negative impact on prognosis. But the factors that tell us this, including cancer grade, hormone-receptor status, and HER2 status, were not part of the information gathered for this table.

Survival rates and mortality numbers by race and ethnicity

Another way that researchers track survival by demographic is by gathering information about survival in different racial groups. Just like the numbers above, the numbers shown here are averages that did not consider every factor that impacts survival.

Five-year relative survival rates for breast cancer by race and stage

Graph showing five-year relative survival rates for breast cancer by race and stage

U.S. breast cancer mortality numbers in women, by race and ethnicity, 2013-2017

 Race/Ethnicity

 Number of deaths per 100,000 women

 White 

 19.8

 Black

 27.6

 Asian/Pacific Islander

 11.4

 American Indian/Alaska Native (total U.S.)

 11.5

 Hispanic

 14.0

We know that survival rates for Black women are different than they are for white women: 

  • Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. These disparities exist because of socioeconomic inequality that demands change. Some of these disparities lead to decreased access to preventive care, lack of adequate health insurance, and inadequate or disparate treatment from healthcare providers. LBBC is committed to empowering our Black community to advocate for health equity through educational programs, sharing the stories of Black women, and more.
  • Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which often means a poorer prognosis than with other subtypes of breast cancer in the first 5 years after diagnosis.

But whether a woman was faced with socioeconomic challenges or had triple-negative breast cancer was not looked at when the researchers gathered these numbers. 

What does all of this mean for you? Since these numbers do not capture important details that can make your individual situation very different than someone else’s, it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor if you’re concerned about life expectancy. This is about the whole you: not just the characteristics of the cancer, but many other factors too. You’re more than a number. You’re a whole human being, and each person diagnosed with breast cancer has a unique picture of their prognosis.

Coping with your prognosis

Even if your healthcare team has told you that your prognosis is very good, it’s normal to feel worried sometimes about how long you’ll live. Fear of recurrence or cancer progression is extremely common after a diagnosis.

If you’re dealing with anxiety or overwhelmed about your prognosis, you’re not alone, and we’re here for you. Visit our page on coping with a new breast cancer diagnosis for information and tips on navigating different emotions and finding support.

The importance of screening

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, and especially if you have higher risk due to a hereditary gene mutation or other factors, screening can mean earlier detection of a recurrence or new breast cancer. Regular breast cancer screenings have been shown to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer and increase survival rates.

Talk with your healthcare team about the type of screening plan that’s best for you.

Additional resources

Below you can find articles, personal stories, and downloadable resources with more information about diagnosis, talking with family, and finding emotional support. 

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