Breast cancer: Why we can’t get complacent with the progress to-date

Despite incredible improvements in survival rates, breast cancer remains the most common cancer in women around the world1. In 2018 there were an estimated 2.1 million new cases of breast cancer worldwide, and it is estimated that around 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point during their life.2,3 In addition, although the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer that has not spread is 99%, this drops to just one in four, or 27%, if the cancer has spread (become metastatic)4.

As a result of the comprehensive approach to breast cancer care taken by stakeholders across disciplines, in the US, the female breast cancer death rate declined by 40% between 1989 and 2016.5 A remarkable achievement made possible through improvements in early detection (through screening, as well as increased awareness of symptoms) and advances in treatment.6

AstraZeneca has been committed to improving outcomes for women with breast cancer for half a century. In the almost fifty years since we developed our first medicine to treat breast cancer, we’ve made significant progress in developing therapies for this devastating disease.6 With five medicines now approved for the treatment of breast cancer, we are relentless in our pursuit of curing every type of breast cancer, at every stage of the disease.

We’re also continuing to work with patients and survivors through our support initiatives, from partnering with the American Cancer Society on the very first National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the US in 1985, to the recent Beyond Pink: Sharing Our Metastatic Breast Cancer Story.7 Our Beyond Pink initiative works with 12 community partners in the US to help increase awareness of metastatic breast cancer, and drive understanding of the particular challenges faced by patients with incurable disease.

While surgery and chemotherapy have demonstrated good response rates, approximately 30% of women who are diagnosed with early breast cancer will go on to develop advanced disease.8 This is why we’re looking at therapies that address every kind of tumour type, in every stage. As our knowledge of this disease grows, so does our ability to develop treatments that target the specific mechanisms driving tumour growth. A recent study has shown that breast cancer is 11 genetically distinct diseases, with differing prognoses, response to treatment and risks of relapse.9 Insights like this bolster our precision medicine approach, in making sure that each patient gets the right treatment for their disease, at the right time and in the right dose.

We are leveraging the power of multiple scientific platforms to fully explore possibilities for treatment innovation in breast cancer. While we continue to build on our long-standing heritage in endocrine therapies, our promising next generation pipeline is investigating the role of DNA damage response, Immuno-Oncology and the benefits of targeted treatments, either as small molecules or antibody-drug conjugates. We currently have more than 10 potential new medicines in development for breast cancer with more than 150 ongoing clinical trials across the world.

This is an exciting time in breast cancer research and treatment. Every day, new scientific advances bring us one step closer to curing breast cancer. We are continuing our pioneering research in this area and look forward to the day we can bring new, innovative treatment options for the patients who need them. The last fifty years have just been a warm up – our journey to cure breast cancer continues.



  1.; Accessed March 2019
  2. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Breast-fact-sheet. Available at Accessed March 2019.
  3. National Cancer Institute. BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing. Available at Accessed March 2019.
  5. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. Available at Accessed March 2019.
  6. Cole MP, et al. A New Anti-oestrogenic Agent in Late Breast Cancer: An Early Clinical Appraisal of ICI46474. Br J Cancer. 1971; 25(2): 270–275.
  7. AstraZeneca PLC. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Available at Accessed March 2019.
  8. O’Shaughnessy J. Extending survival with chemotherapy in metastatic breast cancer. Oncologist. 2005;10 (Suppl 3):20–9
  9. Rueda OM, et al. Dynamics of Breast-cancer Relapse Reveal Late-recurring ER-positive Genomic Subgroups. Nature. 2018;


Veeva ID: Z4-17908 

Date of Prep:   27 June 2019
Date of Expiry:  27 June 2021