Why Is Breast Cancer So Deadly?

Zaid Siddiqui

, Health A2Z

According to the WHO, almost 10 million deaths were recorded in 2020 from cancer, out of which 685,000 were caused by breast cancer. Breast cancer is today the most prevalent cancer among women worldwide, including in India.


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Breast cancer accounts for a third of all the cancers that affect women in the country. In recent years, breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer in terms of incidence as well as mortality. Breast cancer occurs in every country in the world in women at any age after puberty but with increasing rates in later life. In this article, we will explore why breast cancer is so deadly.


In terms of new cases of cancer, the most common causes of death in 2020 were:


Types Of Cancer   No. Of  Cases
Breast 2.26 million
Lung 2.21 million
Colon 1.93 million
Prostate 1.41 million
Skin (non-melanoma) 1.20 million
Stomach 1.09 million

From the above table, you can easily infer that out of the top five cancers, the highest number was breast cancer.


What Are The Causes Of Breast Cancer?


It is unclear why some people with no risk factors develop cancer, yet others with risk factors never do. Nevertheless, some researchers have identified some of the significant risk factors related to breast cancer, such as:


  • Increasing age
  • Genetics
  • Previous breast cancer diagnosis
  • Breast cysts or lumps
  • Periods in the early phase of puberty
  • Overexposure to female hormones


Inheritance Of Oncogenes


BRCA1 (BReast Cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) are proteins that aid in the repair of damaged DNA. Everyone carries two copies of each of these genes, one from each parent. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are called tumor suppressor genes because specific changes, known as detrimental (or pathogenic) variations (or mutations), can cause cancer.


People who inherit deleterious variations in one of these genes have a higher risk of developing numerous malignancies, most notably breast and ovarian cancer, but also a variety of other cancers. People who have inherited a deleterious variation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 are also more likely to get cancer at an earlier age than those who do not.


A harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from either parent. Each kid of a parent who has a mutation in one of these genes has a 50% (or one in two) chance of acquiring the mutation. Inherited mutations, also known as germline mutations or variations, are present in all cells of the organism from birth.


Even if a person acquired a dangerous variant in BRCA1 or BRCA2 from one parent, they would have inherited a standard copy of that gene from the other (since embryos with a deleterious mutation from each parent cannot form in most situations).


However, during that person’s lifespan, the standard copy may be lost or changed in some cells in the body. A somatic alteration is a change like this. Cells that lack functional BRCA1 or BRCA2 proteins can proliferate uncontrollably and develop into cancer.

Why Breast Cancer Is So Deadly?


Breast cancer is among the most common causes of cancer mortality in 2020. It is a malignant condition in which breast cells grow abnormally, and these cells more rapidly divide compared to healthy cells and continue accumulating and forming lumps or cysts. These cells may spread beyond the breast area to lymph nodes and then other parts of the body.


1. Lack Of Awareness


The leading cause of cancer mortality is breast cancer, and the growing number of breast cancer-related deaths has been largely attributed to a lack of awareness of the disease among women.


The level of awareness of breast cancer among women has always been rather superficial. Generally, most women are unaware of risk factors for breast cancer; benign cysts and lumps are commonly significant causes of breast cancer, and most women aren’t unaware of the reality that “lumps that don’t hurt can also become cancerous.”


It is estimated that the five-year survival rate decreases by 2.7 times for breast cancer when it is detected at stage IV as against stage I. Similarly, treatment cost for late-stage cancers is 1.5 to 2 times higher. 


To tackle this issue, many not-for-profit organizations have started campaigns to increase awareness of breast cancer among women. International organizations, such as the World Health Organization, have even dedicated a month (October) to breast cancer awareness.


The awareness activities include educating women and their dear ones about various signs and symptoms of breast cancer, especially the early ones, self-examination, treatments, etc.


2. Taboo


Due to a lack of awareness, many women struggle to fight breast cancer.


In many parts of the world, even today, discussion on diseases related to female reproductive parts is not considered necessary. This thinking mainly stems from either lack of education or from a societal structure when women do not share the same status as men. Over the years, this set-up led to female reproductive health being labeled as a taboo. The rise in taboo around the topic, coupled with subsequent decrease in awareness levels, have led to late diagnosis in majority of the cases.


According to an ICMR study, the age-standardized rate of breast cancer is approximately 25.8 per one lakh women and is expected to rise to 35 per one lakh women by 2026. Women in almost all under or semi-developed countries live with the largest number of health-related problems, and paradoxically with the least number of systemic approaches to tackle them.


An immense amount of data upholds that most of the deaths due to breast cancer can be directly or indirectly related to taboo or not getting an early diagnosis, making breast cancer a deadly disease. Many world-class initiatives have been rapidly implemented to spread awareness and decrease breast cancer mortality rates.


3. Metastasis


The most dangerous part of breast cancer is the “metastatic,” “last stage,” or “advanced stage”. In this situation, cancer spreads beyond the breast region to other body parts. This stage is difficult as from here, there is no coming back.


3.1 LFT (Lumber-Femur-Thoracic)


Metastasis is the most fatal form of breast cancer. In this stage, the tumor breaks away and spreads to other parts of the body through the lymphovascular system. Mainly, three areas are affected – the Lumbar, Femur, and Thoracic regions. The situation tends to get complicated from this point.


Metastatic breast cancer has its own set of complications, such as:



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4. Remission And Reoccurrence


Remission means that the signs and symptoms of your cancer are reduced. Remission can be partial or complete. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared.


When cancer returns after a period of remission, it’s considered a recurrence. A cancer recurrence happens because, despite the best efforts to rid you of your cancer, some cells from your cancer remain.


These cells can grow and may cause symptoms. Even after initial treatment is completed and tests reveal no evidence of disease, breast cancer may recur. This is referred to as recurrent breast cancer. Recurrent malignancies usually arise within the first three years of treatment.


Can relapsed cancer be treated? Many local and regional recurrences are treatable. Even if a cure is not attainable, treatment may decrease your cancer and slow its growth. This can help you live longer by relieving pain and other problems.


5. Treatments


Breast cancer treatments, although they can provide relief, have their own set of drawbacks. As the cancer stage increases, the treatments tend to become more aggressive. For example, stage 1 breast cancer may require a lumpectomy, while stage 3 breast cancer may require a complete mastectomy. Similarly, with an increase in cancer stages, the doses of adjuvant therapies like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, etc, tend to increase.


Complete breast removal can severely affect a woman’s self-esteem, affecting her mentally. Moreover, increased doses of adjuvant therapies can also lead to hair loss, skin and hair changes, increased risk of developing infections, etc.


How To Prevent Risk Factors Associated With Breast Cancer In Women


If a woman has discovered the risk of developing breast cancer, then you may discuss options to reduce your risk, such as:


  • Preventive medications: This procedure involves estrogen-blocking medications, which limit cancer growth. However, these medications carry risk of side effects, so doctors reserve these medications for women who have a very high risk of breast cancer.


  • Preventive surgery: Women with a very high risk of breast cancer may choose to have their healthy breasts surgically removed (prophylactic mastectomy). They may also choose to remove their healthy ovaries (prophylactic oophorectomy) to reduce the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.




This malicious form of cancer is progressing at a high pace; furthermore, this life-threatening situation becomes more severe if we are unaware of the prerequisites involved in the metastasis category. Women worldwide face this situation, but according to several observations, a few populations of men also have this problem due to various reasons, including destructive lifestyles, prior treatments, indulgence in radiation-rich environments, etc. However, there are top-notch treatments, rehabilitation, and therapies that help to reduce such problems.


FAQs On Why Is Breast Cancer So Deadly?

Q: What makes breast cancer so deadly?


A: Breast cancer can be deadly due to factors such as late detection, aggressive tumor types, potential for metastasis, and challenges in treatment success.


Q: Is breast cancer the deadliest cancer?


A: Breast cancer is not the deadliest cancer; it ranks high in incidence but survival rates vary based on factors like stage and treatment.


Q: How long can you live with breast cancer?


A: Survival with breast cancer depends on various factors, including the stage at diagnosis, treatment effectiveness, and individual characteristics.


Q: What makes breast cancer so deadly?


A: Breast cancer’s potential severity is linked to factors like late detection, aggressive subtypes, and metastasis, but early detection and treatment significantly improve outcomes.


Q: How long can a breast cancer patient live?


A: The prognosis for a breast cancer patient varies based on factors like stage, type, and response to treatment, with many surviving for years, especially if diagnosed early. According to several studies, the relative 5-year survival rate after diagnosis with breast cancer is about 85%.


Q: Can a person having stage 4 breast cancer survive?


A: Some individuals with stage 4 breast cancer can survive for several years with appropriate treatment, although it is typically not curable at this stage.


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