US Breast Cancer Deaths Fell Dramatically in the Past 20 Years

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Posted on 4 February 2015

Breast cancer deaths in the U.S. have dropped dramatically in the past two decades — the result of better treatment, greater awareness and more women getting mammograms.

The latest government statistics show deaths declined 34% between 1990 and 2011, from 33 to 22 per 100,000 women, and experts expect that the downward trend has continued in the four years since. The American Cancer Society says this translates into more than 200,000 deaths averted.

Megan Schanie is among the growing ranks of survivors. After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2006, Schanie feared she might not live to see her two children grow up. But on Sunday, she celebrated her youngest daughter’s 10th birthday.

“It’s fantastic,” says Schanie, 39, who helped start a support group for young breast cancer survivors in her hometown of Louisville. “Even in my own little world, I’ve noticed that we have so many in our group who are surviving.”

Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the cancer society, which is marking World Cancer Day on Wednesday, says the biggest reason is that treatments have improved, with new medicines such as targeted chemotherapy and the estrogen blocker .

Meanwhile, Brawley says, awareness of the disease has risen steadily, and women now go to their doctors when something seems awry. Mammogram screenings are the third-most-important reason for the decline in deaths, he says; mammography rates among U.S. women 40 and older have risen from 29% in 1987 to 67% in the 2005-10 period.

“In the 1990s, there was this huge push to screen women with mammography, to reach women who didn’t have access,” says Thomas Tucker, director of the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

BreastCancerDeaths-USA Cancer society statistics show mammography rates have leveled off in recent years, dropping slightly from 70% in 2000. Complicating matters, there are currently two different, high-profile recommendations regarding mammograms: The cancer society endorses yearly screening starting at age 40, while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises screening every two years for women ages 50-74.

Breast cancer experts say they aren’t sure how these conflicting recommendations will affect death rates. But they expect continuing advances in breast cancer treatment. Susan Brown, managing director of health and mission program education for Susan G. Komen, the breast cancer organization, says there’s a trend toward more targeted, individualized therapies as scientists learn more about the biology of tumors. And treatments will get only more personalized in the future, she says.

Schanie says she appreciates such advances. She’s also glad breast cancer is no longer shrouded in secrecy as it was in decades past, and that women are paying more attention to their bodies than ever before. In her case, she woke one morning to find her right breast swollen, with a hardened area, and a biopsy confirmed cancer. She had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy and later took Tamoxifen pills and underwent breast reconstruction. She’s had no signs of cancer since.

Going forward, Brawley says the breast cancer death rate may not keep dropping as quickly as it has, partly because some of the most difficult-to-treat types of cancer remain. Still, he says, “I’m very hopeful we’ll continue to have a decline.”

Brown says women should view the long-term, downward trend “optimistically and with hope from the day they hear, ‘You have breast cancer.'”

Source: USA Today




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