1 in 8 women? Understanding breast cancer statistics

October 1, 2014 | by Nicole White

Here’s a statistic you’ll hear and read frequently over the next month: One in eight women born in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in her lifetime.

Breast cancer statistics, explained Breast cancer statistics say that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. What those statistics mean.

Although this statement is accurate, based on breast cancer incidence rates in 2013, it’s often misunderstood.

Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., director of cancer etiology at City of Hope, has spent much of her career researching cancer risk, including the factors linked to breast cancer and how risk can be reduced. What that statistic doesn’t mean, she says, is that if you’re gathered at dinner in a group of eight adult women, that one of you is going to develop breast cancer.

Bernstein sheds some light on the oft-repeated statistic:

“Based on current breast cancer incidence rates in 2013, one of eight women born in the United States today (i.e., newborn) will develop breast cancer at some time during her lifetime (through the age of 90).  It presumes that a woman lives her 90 years at this moment in time, accumulating her risk at current rates – but going from age 1 to age 90 instantly.  The following table shows you the likelihood that a woman at a particular age today will develop breast cancer within the next 10 years:

According to the current report, the risk that a woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer during the next 10 years, starting at the following ages, is as follows:

o    Age 30 . . . . . . 0.44 percent (or 1 in 227) o    Age 40 . . . . . . 1.47 percent (or 1 in 68) o    Age 50 . . . . . . 2.38 percent (or 1 in 42) o    Age 60 . . . . . . 3.56 percent (or 1 in 28) o    Age 70 . . . . . . 3.82 percent (or 1 in 26)

Leslie Bernstein Leslie Bernstein knows a thing or two about cancer risk. She's director of the Division of Cancer Etiology at City of Hope.

Thus – for a 70-year-old women, one in 26 (not one in eight) would be expected to develop breast cancer by the age of 80.  This is a far better way to show risk of developing breast cancer.”

The "one in eight" statistic is useful in understanding the overall incidence of breast cancer, which remains the most common cancer diagnosis in women and the second-leading cause of cancer death. That's important to understand. More important is knowing individual risk – which is a conversation all women should have with their physicians to determine the best screening strategies and steps they can take to minimize their risk.

One place to start also comes from Bernstein's research: Exercise. Even moderate exercise – taking walks five days a week – can make a difference.

** Learn more about breast cancer treatment and research at City of Hope.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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