Breast Cancer Survivorship, Then and Now

Over the past 30 years, much progress has been made in the fight against breast cancer and toward increasing breast cancer survivorship. More than three decades ago, when Suzy Komen was told she had breast cancer, people wouldn’t even say the words “breast cancer” aloud. The disease was not talked about in social circles and it wasn’t discussed in the media.

Since those days, progress has been significant. We are grateful that talking about breast cancer is no longer taboo.

In the years since Suzy Komen’s breast cancer experience, researchers have identified many factors that increase breast cancer risk and a few factors that lower risk. Genetic tests are now available to detect certain mutations. We know that certain lifestyle choices – such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, limiting postmenopausal hormone use, and breastfeeding – can have an impact on breast cancer risk. We know now that breast cancer is not contagious, contrary to previous belief.

Many risk factors are still unknown and some are simply out of our control; the two most significant risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. Although we have learned a lot, we still do not fully understand what causes breast cancer to develop at a certain time in a certain person.

Komen grants have made major breakthroughs possible in breast cancer over the past 30 years. And Komen is leading the way to learn more about preventing this disease, including investments in research aimed at figuring out what role environmental factors such as pollution, radiation exposure and synthetic chemicals may play in the development of breast cancer.

In 1980, the 5-year relative survival rate for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (cancer that has not left the breast) was about 74%. Today, that number is 98%.

Since 1990, early detection and effective treatment have resulted in a 34 percent decline in breast cancer mortality in the U.S.

Today, Komen continues to work to find cures for breast cancer while also helping women gain access right now to the quality breast health care they need.

Today, there are nearly three million breast cancer survivors in the United States – that’s more than any other group of cancer survivors.

Today, more breast cancer survivors are breast cancer thrivers, leading long and fulfilling lives. Komen is with these survivors at every step of their journey.


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