Breast cancer

What is breast cancer?

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. The estimated 2.3 million new cases indicate that one in every 8 cancers diagnosed in 2020 is 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.[1]

Breast cancer cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. If spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels, 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.

"There is an overwhelming need for evidence-based and resource-stratified guidelines that support the phased implementation of breast cancer early detection and treatment into real-world practice."
– IARC Director Dr Elisabete Weiderpass from IARC Press release

Survival rates for breast cancer are very high when the cancer is detected early and where treatment is available. Unfortunately, 50 to 80% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage[2] 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.  

To tackle the growing breast cancer burden, it is critical that improvements are made in access to early detection, timely access to treatment and care, palliative and survivorship care, and comprehensive data collection through robust cancer registries.[3]

Click to open the maps in the Gallery:

Doctor and patient at the Hellenic Cancer Society demonstrating self-exam

UICC’s engagement in breast cancer

In order to help specifically address the higher mortality rates of breast cancer cases in low resource settings, in 2014, UICC and other oncology organisations launched the Breast Cancer Initiative 2.5 (BCI2.5) to reduce disparities in breast cancer outcomes and improve access to breast health care for 2.5 million women by 2025.

Subsequently, UICC, NCI’s Center for Global Health, Breast Health Global Initiative (BHGI) and PAHO jointly produced the Knowledge Summaries for Comprehensive Breast Cancer Control (KSBC), a set of tools to help guide policymakers, advocates and clinicians in developing appropriate programmes and policies. The goal of the KSBC is to facilitate evidence-based policy actions and urgently advance implementation of an integrated approach to reduce breast cancer mortality and improve quality of life.

In 2015, UICC teamed up with Pfizer Oncology to launch the Seeding Progress and Resources for the Cancer Community (SPARC) MBC Challenge. This global grant initiative seeks to support new ideas and projects from advocacy groups, hospital networks and other non-for-profit organisations working to address the specific needs of metastatic breast cancer patients. Since its launch, the SPARC MBC Challenge has awarded a total of 1,580,000 USD in grants to over 50 organisations from 35 countries, helping to get their projects off the ground through a package of training, networking, mentoring and financial support.

Building on the experience from the SPARC MBC Challenge, and building upon the momentum for addressing women’s cancers and leveraging its experience and wide network, UICC is currently developing a comprehensive set of activities to strengthen and engage the global breast cancer community. This Breast Cancer programme will be launched towards the end of 2020.

Upcoming activities

To support progress in tackling the increasing rates of breast cancer incidence and mortality, UICC launched a five-year Breast Cancer Programme in October 2020 as organisations around the world marked Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Leveraging established UICC’s Capacity Building programmes and convening platforms, the Breast Cancer Programme aims to support and strengthen the capacity of key breast cancer actors to increase their impact with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries. Please look out for relevant opportunities 

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Last update: 
Thursday 25 February 2021
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