How many women are living today with metastatic breast cancer?

More than 150,000, new study shows.

The number of women living with MBC is increasing.

The lack of robust epidemiological statistics on the number of people living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) was highlighted as one of many critical gaps to making advances for MBC in our Landscape Report.

On May 18, a new study led by Dr. Angela Mariotto of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), conducted in a partnership with the MBC Alliance, reports that as of January 1, 2017, more than 150,000 women in the US are living with MBC, 75% of whom have initially been diagnosed with an earlier stage of breast cancer and suffered a metastatic recurrence months to years later. The study also finds that median and five-year relative survival for women initially diagnosed with MBC is improving, especially among younger women.

Under the leadership of Musa Mayer, a long-time advocate for advanced breast cancer patients, in partnership with Alliance Chairman Marc Hurlbert, the MBC Alliance set out to develop the most accurate epidemiology information and statistics on the disease. Thanks to the hard work of NCI statisticians, today we have the best statistics on MBC currently available across the broad US population.

The study, entitled “Estimation of the Number of Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer in the United States,” appears in the current issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Since cancer registries in the United States, as in other countries around the world, do not document metastatic recurrences which account for the large majority of breast and other cancer deaths, innovative methods for statistical modeling of MBC incidence, prevalence and length of survival have been devised and validated by Dr. Mariotto.

Key findings:

  • As of January 1, 2017, an estimated 154,974 women are living with MBC in the US;
  • 75% of women living with MBC have initially been diagnosed with early stage (stage I-III) breast cancer and suffered a metastatic recurrence
  • Despite the poor prognosis of MBC, survival of women initially diagnosed with MBC (de novo MBC) has been increasing, especially among young women
    • Study estimates a 2-fold increase in 5-year relative survival rates from 18% to 36% for women diagnosed with de novo MBC at age 15-49 years between 1992-1994 and 2005-2012, respectively.
    • More than 11% of women diagnosed with MBC between 2000 and 2004 under the age of 64 have survived 10 years or more
  • Study estimates the number of women living with MBC is increasing primarily because of improvements in treatment and the aging of the US population
    • Estimated number of women living with MBC increased by 4% from 1990 to 2000, by 17% from 2000 to 2010, and is projected to increase by 31% from 2010 to 2020

This study provides the most accurate information to-date to estimate the number of women in the US currently living with MBC. The number of women living with MBC is increasing, and the study authors suggest that this is likely due to improvements in treatments that have extended survival for many patients. These findings further highlight the importance of documenting recurrence from early stage breast cancer and to foster more research into the specific needs of the MBC patient population.

The current study is representative of several ongoing initiatives led by the MBC Alliance to advance MBC research from epidemiology, laboratory and translational research to clinical trials. This first report in epidemiology is pivotal to our understanding of the impact of MBC by counting those currently living with the disease. Additional work is needed, however, to continue to improve our knowledge and understanding of men with metastatic breast cancer and the numbers of early stage patients that experience a recurrence.

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