Breast cancer that remains in the breast does not kill, although some of the brutal treatments for early stage breast cancer can kill. When breast cancer metastasizes it usually spreads to the bones, brain, lungs and/or liver. It is when breast cancer spreads beyond the breast that it becomes deadly. And although there are treatments that can extend the lives of people with metastatic breast cancer, there is no cure.
522,000 every year.
That is about one person every minute that loses his/her life to metastatic breast cancer.
We are dying for a cure.
Approximately 40,000 women and men die of breast cancer every year in the US, and this number has not changed meaningfully in 40 years. Worldwide, the annual death toll is about 522,000.
The median survival from diagnosis with metastatic breast cancer is 2-3 years, and this number has not changed meaningfully in 20 years. Only about 24% of patients with metastatic breast cancer will be alive 5 years after diagnosis.
Metastatic breast cancer is on the rise among women under 40, and has been for the last 30 years.
We don’t know how many people who are initially diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will develop metastatic disease, because the national database that tracks cancer, SEER, does not track when someone’s cancer metastasizes. Estimates range from 20-36% of women and men with early stage breast cancer will later develop metastatic breast cancer. Because we don’t track when a person’s breast cancer metastasizes, we only have an estimate for how many people are living with metastatic breast cancer in the US right now. That estimate is 155,000.
A 2014 study by the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance found that only about 7% of all breast cancer research funding goes towards researching metastatic disease. Researchers still don’t know which breast cancers will metastasize and which won’t, because we still don’t know how cancer metastasizes.
Nothing fun or pink.
Metastatic Breast Cancer involves treatment for the rest of our shortened lives.
Pink is not a cure.
Much of the work done by breast cancer charities has focused on early prevention saving lives. Women with MBC will die of their disease, and feel excluded from this narrative–particularly if they were too young for routine screening, or had early stage disease that later metastasized. Decades of early prevention efforts have not reduced the annual death toll from breast cancer. Early detection is a failed experiment.
Too often, breast cancer charities, in a desperate attempt to fund their programs, partner with corporations whose fundraising campaigns sexualize our disease, or worse, run their own sexploitative fundraising campaigns. These campaigns demean women in general, make women who have lost their breasts to their disease feel worse about their bodies, and ignore the men who get breast cancer. Campaigns like “Save the Tatas” reduce women to their body parts and ignore that the goal of treatment should be to save women’s lives, not their breasts.
Life with metastatic breast cancer involves ongoing treatments for the rest of our shortened lives. There is nothing fun or pink about our experience. Too often, breast cancer charities turn their fundraising events into celebrations with pink feather boas, as though breast cancer is a sorority you get to join by going through the hazing that is treatment. People with MBC will never exit the hazing phase and get to join the sorority.
Click here to review the sources of our data.