Intended for healthcare professionals


UK deaths from breast cancer fall to lowest figure for 40 years

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 28 April 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1710
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

    The number of women dying from breast cancer in the United Kingdom has fallen to fewer than 12 000 for the first time since national statistics have been recorded, almost 40 years ago, according to the latest figures.

    The figures collated from government statistics by Cancer Research UK, a research and information charity, showed that 11 990 women died from breast cancer in the UK in 2007. In 1971, the first year that these statistics were collected, 12 472 women died from the disease.

    Deaths from breast cancer then increased steadily each year, reaching a peak in 1989 when 15 625 women died. Since then, breast cancer death rates have fallen by 36%, from 41.6 women per 100 000 in 1989 to 26.7 women in 2007 (figure).

    The decline has occurred in all age groups. Between 1989 and 2007 the rate of mortality from breast cancer fell by 41% in women aged 40-49 years; by 41% in women aged 50-64; by 38% in women aged 65-69; by 35% in women aged 15-39; and by 20% in women older than 70.

    Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said, “It’s incredibly encouraging to see fewer women dying from breast cancer now than at any time in the last 40 years, despite breast cancer being diagnosed more often.”

    Research has played a crucial role in this progress, leading to improved treatments and better management for women with the disease, he said. The fall in mortality is associated with reduced risk of recurrence of breast cancer, achieved by the widespread introduction of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormone treatments, such as tamoxifen and anastrozole, in addition to surgery.

    “The introduction of the NHS breast screening programme in 1988 has also contributed, as women are more likely to survive the earlier cancer is diagnosed,” added Professor Johnson.

    Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK. A total of 45 500 women are diagnosed with the disease every year, and it is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women after lung cancer.

    In addition, about 300 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK and about 90 men die from the disease. The latest figures showed no significant reduction in incidence or mortality among men with breast cancer.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1710


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