Lifetime risks of breast cancer

Ever wonder why, if one in eight women are at lifetime risk of getting breast cancer, that you don’t know that many women with breast cancer? Unless, of course you are a survivor yourself, or have a family history of breast cancer – in that case, you probably know a disproportionate number of women who have had breast cancer. But you are the exception not the rule.

Before my diagnosis, I knew of only a couple of people who have had breast cancer. I didn’t know anyone who had breast cancer as a young person (in breast cancer terms, anyone diagnosed under 45 is considered ‘young’). If one in eight women gets breast cancer, why didn’t I know more women? In part because the one in eight statistic is a lifetime risk statistic.

Ever since I first say a post on this topic, I’ve wanted to write about it – but I couldn’t find the original post that I read. So today, when Brandie of A Journey of 1000 Stitches posted the numbers to Facebook, I was able to ask her about the numbers. She wrote about the numbers in a post back in November last year title Um, say what? Following the trail a little further back, I found the post that I originally read, from AnneMarie at Chemo Brain… In the fog, which was published last October titled One in Eight, Sounds Great.

Thanks to Brandie, I have the original data from the NIH National Cancer Institute –

So here is how it all works when you do the breakdown by age (from the NIH site):

According to the current report, the risk that a woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer during the next 10 years, starting at the following ages, is as follows:

Age 30 . . . . . . 0.44 percent (or 1 in 227)
Age 40 . . . . . . 1.47 percent (or 1 in 68)
Age 50 . . . . . . 2.38 percent (or 1 in 42)
Age 60 . . . . . . 3.56 percent (or 1 in 28)
Age 70 . . . . . . 3.82 percent (or 1 in 26)

These probabilities are averages for the whole population. An individual woman’s breast cancer risk may be higher or lower depending on a number of known factors and on factors that are not yet fully understood.

So, of all the women in my age range, the likelihood of one of them having breast cancer was only 1 in 68 (I drew the unlucky straw there).

I blog a little bit about why these numbers matter when I talk about the 30% to 1/3 inflation of the metastasis statics. Anytime a number is used as a scare tactic, to try to get people to take action (in this case to donate to often dubious breast cancer charities), they have a negative impact on the people who are living with breast cancer. The numbers increase our anxiety – and frankly, many of us already have more anxiety than we can cope with, we don’t need any more. So, before you throw out a statistic that is inflated as a means to scare people into donating money, please consider also the people who are on the other side of that statistic. We don’t need any unnecessary anxiety in our lives!

  • Becky

One Comment

  • Thank you for writing about this. I am one in 227. Sigh. I have always wondered about the numbers in relationship to my age since I was 32 when diagnosed. Wondering about those who are in their 20’s when diagnosed. I have also wondered if there is a drastic increase in numbers compared to 30 years ago, let’s say. Or is it that I am just getting older and noticing more cases than before? Either way, it all sucks. When you say “1 in 8” it does sound pretty scary — I’ve used this number myself but always try to add the word “lifetime risk.”

    I am sorry you are in this mess too.

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