More women are living with the most serious form of breast cancer

More women are living with the most serious form of breast cancer

The number of women in the U.S. living with breast cancer that has spread throughout the body is growing – but that may not be as bad as it sounds.

More and more women across the country are living with distant metastatic breast cancer, the most severe form of the disease, according to a new study at the National Cancer Institute.

“Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread outside of the breast, most commonly to the lymph nodes in the axilla, bone, brain, liver and lung,” says Dr. Gale England, breast surgeon at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

The researchers estimate that the number of women living with the cancer increased by 17 percent from 2000 to 2010, projecting the number will increase by another 31 percent by 2020.

However, the female breast cancer death rate declined by 38 percent from its peak in 1989 to 2014 due to improvements in early detection and treatment, according to the American Cancer Society.

Similarly, the National Cancer Institute chalked up at least part of the growth in number of women with distant metastatic breast cancer to improvements in treatment and awareness, as well as the aging U.S. population. Old age is one of the contributing factors to breast cancer, including weight gain, postmenopausal hormone use, physical inactivity and alcohol consumption, among others.

Still, both the median and five-year relative survival for women initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is improving, especially among younger women.

The researchers said the study documented the increased needs for services and research to treat the disease.

Dr. England says the treatment and diagnosis of breast cancer has become much less invasive over the last several decades.

“Thirty to 40 years ago, all women would have a mastectomy, but now, more patients are treated with lumpectomy,” she says. “We can now send the tumor tissue for additional testing to see if chemotherapy would be helpful. Oftentimes, those who would have gotten chemo five years ago now find they won’t need it.”

Related Posts



  1. I am curious how the quality of life is for these patients who are living beyond the original 5 year survival rate. If the quality of life is fulfilling for the survivors then living beyond the expectations is well worth it.

    Quality of life is important when it comes to a life threatening disease. To watch a patients life extended after their body has given up is inexplicably the most harrowing moments to witness.

  2. Jennifer
    I’m confused on your comment for survivors who lived past the 5yrs survival rate. I’m not a survivor, but have many friends, family members who are. Each of these survivors will tell you a different definition of fulfilling…..
    I do think for the most part, they are grateful for still being alive, in spite of their limitation post breast cancer after treatment..

  3. Yet another article praising the symptom-recovery rate, and not even touching on the “rhinoceros in the room”, aka: the CAUSE. The rate in which women get sick in this country is ridiculously increasing each year! Let’s all pet each other (on the doctors, clinics, scientists, politicians…) on the back that more women can live with cancer beyond the 5 yr mark. There is overwhelming data that proves it nearly always resurfaces in the body UNLESS those women drastically change their diets (FOOD THEY CONSUME), and lifestyle. We must start asking questions and understanding the REASONS for this killer. Look at your pantry, question your FOOD and EDUCATE yourselves on the reasons we get so incredibly sick.

    • Wow! @Agatha, that’s a lot of animosity….food is not the only thing that makes women develop breast cancer. I myself am an 11 and a half year survivor of a very aggressive form of breast cancer. I was 27 years old at the time of diagnosis, normal BMI/weight and had just finished training and running the Chicago Marathon the year I was diagnosed. I was a young, healthy, active woman who ate hardly any meat and with no family history of this disease. My genetic testing has all been negative and no one really knows why this happened. There is a high rate of reoccurence for breast cancer but the cause of this is often unknown as well. But that’s ok, I am SO grateful that treatment for breast cancer has progressed so that I and other women like me can be survivors and live longer fufilling lives!
      PS: @Jennifer, since my diagnosis and treatment, I have gotten married, had the chance to become a mother, completed schooling to become a nurse practitioner and now am in the process of adopting another child. I love my life, thank goodness for modern medicine!

Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

Nathan Lurz
Nathan Lurz

Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.