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Trends of population-based breast cancer survival in Germany and the US: Decreasing discrepancies, but persistent survival gap of elderly patients in Germany

Bernd Holleczek12* and Hermann Brenner1

Author affiliations

1 Division of Clinical Epidemiology and Aging Research, German Cancer Research Center, Im Neuenheimer Feld 581, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

2 Saarland Cancer Registry, Präsident Baltz-Straße 5, 66119 Saarbrücken, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Cancer 2012, 12:317  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-317

Published: 28 July 2012



Studies have revealed both higher cancer survival in the US than in Germany and substantial improvement of cancer survival in the past in these countries. This population-based study aims at comparing most recent 5-year relative survival of breast cancer patients and preceding trends in both countries.


Women with a first invasive breast cancer diagnosed and followed up between 1988 and 2008 from Germany and the US (utilizing data from the Saarland Cancer Registry and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, respectively) were included. Period analysis was used to derive most up-to-date 5-year relative survival and preceding survival trends according to age and stage.


Since 1993, age standardized relative survival has steadily improved in Germany and the US to 83% and 88%, respectively. In the period 2005–08, relative survival of localized cancer was above 97% in both countries, and 79% and 83% for locally/regionally spread breast cancer, respectively. Prognosis of metastasized disease has remained very poor overall, with improvement essentially being restricted to younger patients. The proportion of patients diagnosed with localized breast cancer was consistently higher in the US. If adjusted for stage, the differences in relative survival between both countries diminished over time and eventually disappeared.


Similar survival is now observed in both countries for patients below the age of 70 years, but in Germany survival is still much lower for elderly patients. The observed trends point to treatment advances as a major cause for improved survival. However, substantial differences in mammography usage existed between both countries and might probably also account for the observed differences (to a lesser extent, also differences in health care systems, and delivery of cancer care). Encouraging, survival of breast cancer patients has improved in Germany to a much greater extent than in the US, albeit the persisting survival gap for elderly patients in Germany requires particular attention by researchers, public health authorities, and clinicians.

Female breast cancer; Survival; Population-based; Trends; Germany; United States