Breast Cancer: Screening and Early Diagnosis
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States.1 Fortunately, breast cancer can be treated, and early diagnosis leads to better outcomes.2-4
Screening mammography for women with an average risk of developing breast cancer reduces rates of advanced and fatal breast cancers.4 Identifying individuals with risk factors leads to early diagnosis through providing appropriate risk-based screening.5,6 For example, approximately 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary.7,8 Consequently, genetic testing can identify women, as well as men, who are at increased risk.7,8 These individuals may benefit from more frequent surveillance or from risk reducing-treatments.7,8
This article will discuss breast cancer screening, diagnosis, and how diagnosis at an early stage can improve outcomes. Although this article uses the terms woman, female, man, and male to reflect language in source materials, healthcare professionals should also consider the needs of transgender and gender-diverse individuals in terms of counseling, screening, and treatment.
Breast cancer epidemiology and survival
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year in the United States around 255,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and approximately 42,000 will die from the disease.2 Men can also get breast cancer, although much less commonly; about 1 of every 100 breast cancers are in men.2
Approximately half (52%) of all breast cancers occur in women 55 to 74 years of age.9 However, breast cancer also occurs in younger women: approximately 27% of breast cancers occur in women 35 to 54 years of age.9 About 9% of all new cases are found in women <45 years of age.10 Notably, breast cancer in young women tends to be found at a later stage, be more aggressive, and be difficult to treat.10
The 5-year relative survival rate for all women diagnosed with breast cancer is approximately 91% (2012-2018).9 However, survival decreases markedly with more advanced-stage disease (Table).
Table. Female Breast Cancer Stage at Diagnosis, and 5-Year Relative Survivala