American Cancer Society Report Finds Breast Cancer Death Rate Continues to Decline

American Cancer Society
Thursday, 2 October 2003

Disparity Between White and African American Women Increases

As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, a new report from the American Cancer Society finds that progress in early detection and treatment of breast cancer has resulted in decreasing mortality rates in most segments of the population during the 1990s. The latest figures show more than 90 percent of breast cancers are now diagnosed at a localized or regional stage, when 5-year survival rates are 97 percent and 79 percent, respectively.

While overall the news is good, the report finds African American women are still more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, a disparity that has increased over time. While African American women and white women had approximately equal mortality rates in the early 1980s, mortality rates among African American women are now 30 percent higher than those among white women. In addition, African American women have:

  • Slightly higher incidence of breast cancer among young women (under age 40) compared to white women (although incidence is very low in this age group among all ethnicities)

  • Higher incidence of large (+5cm) tumors and disease that has spread

  • Lower 5-year survival rate for disease that has spread (15 percent versus 25 percent for white women)

"The reasons for this disparity are not fully understood," said Michael J. Thun, MD, vice president, epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society. "However, we do know that the widening disparity in death rates in large part reflects socio-economic factors. That is to say, more affluent women have greater access to high-quality early detection, particularly mammography, and appropriate treatment. Their breast cancers, therefore, are diagnosed at an earlier stage and treated more aggressively."

The findings are published in Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2003-2004 (available online at First published in 1996, this report is compiled every two years. In addition to providing new case and death estimates, the publication also presents information on factors that influence survival, known risk factors of the disease, sections on prevention and early detection of breast cancer and information on current breast cancer research. The report will also be published in the November/December 2003 issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Other highlights of the Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2003-2004 include:

  • Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. women, with 211,300 invasive cases expected in 2003. It accounts for nearly one out of three cancers diagnosed in U.S. women.

  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women; 39,800 deaths are expected in 2003, with an additional 1,300 deaths among U.S. men.

  • Other racial and ethnic groups have lower incidence rates than whites and African Americans.

For more information, or to contact American Cancer Society, see their website at:

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