Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer globally. 

Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, accounting for 1 in 4 cancer cases. It is the most frequent cancer amongst both sexes and is the leading cause of death from cancer in women. Of the estimated 2.3 million new cases of breast cancer in 2020, one in every 8 cancers diagnosed globally was breast cancer. In 2020, there were an estimated 684,996 deaths from breast cancer, with a disproportionate number of these deaths occurring in low-resource settings.

With breast cancer now the most common cancer globally and the most likely reason a woman will die from cancer, countries need to embrace the concept of improving breast cancer outcomes if they are going to address cancer as a health priority.”
– Dr Ben Anderson, Medical Officer, Cancer Control, WHO

UICC's Podcast on breast cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow out of control. The cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. If spread outside the breast to other parts of the body, it becomes advanced breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body (such as the liver, lungs, bones or brain), it is said to have metastasised, and is referred to as metastatic breast cancer. 

Survival rates for breast cancer are very high when the cancer is detected early and where treatment is available. The five-year breast-cancer survival rates exceed 90% in high-income countries, compared to 66% in India and 40% in South Africa. Unfortunately, many breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage in many low- and middle-income countries, when the cancer is more difficult to treat, is more expensive to do so, and is usually incurable. 

Despite advances and progress seen in breast cancer in recent years, current data highlights that by 2040, breast cancer incidence will increase 40%, and mortality is expected increase by 50%, with a disproportionate number of cases and deaths expected to occur in low-resource settings.

Addressing breast cancer

The World Health Organization’s Global Breast Cancer Initiative (GBCI), established in 2021, brings together stakeholders from around the world with the shared goal of reducing breast cancer by 2.5% per year, which over a 20-year period would save 2.5 million lives. 

In March 2022, GBCI launched an implementation framework that describes three key pillars with specific targets to achieve these objectives. 

Breast cancer target 1

Health promotion and early detection
Achieve diagnosis of at least 60% of invasive breast cancers at stage I or II.

GBCI Target 2

Timely diagnosis
Evaluation, imaging, tissue sampling and pathology completed within 60 days.

GBCI Target 3

Comprehensive breast cancer management
80% undergo full courses of multimodality treatment and successfully return home.

UICC's work on breast cancer

UICC Breast Cancer programme 

Leveraging established UICC Capacity Building programmes and convening platforms, the Breast Cancer programme aims to strengthen the capacity of key breast cancer actors to increase their impact and engage them in support of the WHO Global Breast Cancer Initiative (GBCI)’s targets.  

Through a series of activities and opportunities, the programme aims to deliver the following key outcomes:

  • Accelerate the development of breast cancer leaders 

  • Strengthen organisational capacities of breast cancer organisations, including patient groups  

  • Support the development of the health workforce in breast cancer  

  • Support national action on breast cancer in responding to key areas and needs in breast cancer control 

  • Strengthen networks and collaborations in breast cancer at a national, regional and global level 

  • Unite the voice of the breast cancer community, including patient groups, to advocate for more effective breast cancer control 

The programme builds bridges between a vast array of stakeholders (cancer organisations, patient groups, healthcare providers, private sector, governments and multilateral agencies) at regional and global levels to catalyse engagement towards the WHO GBCI targets, with a focus on action in low and middle income countries.

Key resources

 10 important facts about breast cancer
Advocating for better breast cancer care in Brazil
Virtual dialogue on World Cancer Day for breast cancer groups

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World Health Organization (WHO)
Wiley Oncology Portfolio: Breast Cancer Awareness

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Last update

Wednesday 04 October 2023

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