Like other cancers, breast cancers are staged according to a well-defined, elaborate progressive scale.
Many factors appear to influence the chances of surviving breast cancer. Early detection and treatment are the most important. The overall five-year survival rate is about 75 percent for white women and about 63 percent for black women. This rises to nearly 90 percent for women with Stage I or II cancer that is treated while the cancer is confined to the breast. In recent decades the overall survival rates have gradually improved. According to the National Cancer Institute, 63 percent of white women whose cancer was diagnosed in the early 1960s had a five-year survival.
This rose to 68 percent in 1970-73, and to 74 percent in 1973-75. Comparable data for black women were 46, 51, and 63 percent. Most experts agree that the racial difference in survival can be attributed to the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis. Among white women, about half of the cancers are in Stage I or II; 41 percent have regional spread (Stage III), and 9 percent have distant metastases. In contrast, only 33 percent of black women have their cancers diagnosed while in Stages I or II; 50 percent are diagnosed in Stage III, and 17 percent already have distant metastases.