Medline: 8492317

Journal of the National Cancer Institute 85(11): 892-897, 1993.

The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.

Feuer EJ, Wun LM, Boring CC, et al.


The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer in U.S. women, often quoted as one in nine, is a commonly cited cancer statistic. However, many estimates have used cancer rates derived from total rather than the cancer-free population and have not properly accounted for multiple cancers in the same individual.

Our purpose was to provide a revised method for calculating estimates of the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and to aid in interpretation of the estimates.

A multiple decrement life table was derived by applying age-specific incidence and mortality rates from cross-sectional data to a hypothetical cohort of women. Incidence, mortality, and population data from 1975-1988 were used, representing the geographic areas of the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program. The incidence rates reflected only the first breast primary cancer; mortality rates reflected causes other than breast cancer. The population denominator used in calculating incidence rates was adjusted to reflect only those women without previously diagnosed breast cancers in the hypothetical cohort.

Our calculations showed an overall lifetime risk for developing invasive breast cancer of approximately one in eight with use of 1987-1988 SEER data, although up to age 85, it was still the commonly quoted one in nine.

Our estimate was calculated assuming constant age-specific rates derived from 1987-1988 SEER data. Because incidence and mortality rates change over time, conditional risk estimates over the short term (10 or 20 years) may be more reliable. A large portion of the rise in the lifetime risk of breast cancer estimated using 1975-1977 data (one in 10.6) to an estimate using 1987-1988 data (one in eight) may be attributed to 1) early detection of prevalent cases due to increased use of mammographic screening and 2) lower mortality due to causes other than breast cancer. A common misperception is that the lifetime risk estimate assumes that all women live to a particular age (e.g., 85 or 95). In fact, the calculation assumes that women can die from causes other than breast cancer at any possible age. Cutting off the lifetime risk calculation at age 85 assumes that no women develop breast cancer after that age. While the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer rose over the period 1976-1977 to 1987-1988, the lifetime risk of dying of breast cancer increased from one in 30 to one in 28, reflecting generally flat mortality trends.

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Dr. G. Quade