Breast cancer in Africa: prevalence, treatment options, herbal medicines, and socioeconomic determinants

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2017 Nov;166(2):351-365. doi: 10.1007/s10549-017-4408-0. Epub 2017 Aug 4.


Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women worldwide. GLOBOCAN estimated about 1.7 million new cases of breast cancer diagnoses worldwide and about 522,000 deaths in 2012. The burden of breast cancer mortality lies in the developing low-income and middle-income countries, where about 70% of such deaths occur. The incidence of breast cancer is also rising in low-income and middle-income countries in Africa as trend towards urbanization, and adoption of Western lifestyles increases. In general, the triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) subtype tends to be frequent in women of African ancestry. What are the factors contributing to this prevalence? Are there genetic predispositions to TNBC in African women? This review addresses these questions and provides an update on the incidence, survival, and mortality of breast cancer in Africans, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africans. We have also addressed factors that could account for ethical disparities in incidence and mortality. Further, we have highlighted challenges associated with access to essential drug and to healthcare treatment in some African countries and outlined alternative/herbal treatment methods that are increasingly implemented in Africa and other developing nations.

Keywords: Africa; African Americans; Alternative treatment strategies; BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations; Blacks; Breast cancer; Cancer therapy; GLOBOCAN; Ganoderma; Subtype; Triple-negative breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • BRCA1 Protein / genetics*
  • BRCA2 Protein / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy
  • Mortality*
  • Mutation
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • BRCA1 Protein
  • BRCA1 protein, human
  • BRCA2 Protein
  • BRCA2 protein, human