Breast cancer mortality rate drops

September 23, 2005|By Judy Peres | Judy Peres,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer - a number that has been rising steadily for a quarter-century - has nearly leveled off, according to new figures released yesterday by the American Cancer Society.

At the same time, the number of women dying of the disease continues to decline.

"The steady decrease in death rates since 1990 shows that we are making progress against breast cancer," said Dr. Stephen Sener, a surgeon and president of the society. According to the biennial report, Breast Cancer Facts and Figures, an estimated 211,240 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year and another 58,490 women will develop non-invasive or in situ cancers.

The report said much of the long-term increase in incidence was caused by women having fewer children and having them later. But a rapid increase in the 1980s was due largely to greater use of screening mammograms - X-rays intended to detect cancer before it can be felt.

Cancer incidence rates are still rising slightly - about 0.3 percent a year - but only for women 50 and older, the report said. Ahmedin Jemal, program director for cancer occurrence at the society, said that's likely because many of these women have taken hormones, are getting mammograms or are obese.

Breast cancer incidence rates are now flat for women younger than 50. One possible explanation for this, Jemal said, is that obesity - which is known to increase the risk of breast cancer later in life - is actually protective in premenopausal women. The good news for women is that, even though their risk of getting breast cancer is more than 13 percent, their risk of dying of it is only 3 percent - far lower than the risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke.

Slightly more than 40,000 women are expected to die of breast cancer this year, and the mortality rate is now declining at more than 2 percent a year, or more than 25 percent since 1990.

For women younger than 50, the death rate is going down 3.3 percent a year.

Because many more women are surviving a diagnosis of breast cancer, there were nearly 2.3 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States in 2002 (the latest year for which figures are available).

Judy Peres writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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