Breast Cancer Rates Falling in the US
By Kristina Dragovic, DO
Recent studies performed by the World Health Organization (WHO) led by French researcher Cecile Pizot found that in the majority of countries studied, there has been a downtrend in the number of deaths caused by breast cancer over the last 30 years; 46% in the United States. This information was found in her study “Overview of Breast Cancer Mortality Rates Worldwide” presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. In addition, it was found that this decline was more significant in women under 50 years of age; this was accounted for by the tendency of younger women typically obtaining more aggressive forms of treatment.
One would expect the advent of screening mammography to be the cause of such a decline, however, these researchers presented their information at a recent breast cancer conference- and explained that they cannot be sure if it is screening via mammography or treatment that are responsible for the reduction of deaths. In a few countries- the Netherlands and Belgium- for example, similar rates of mortality were recorded in the 1980’s. However, in 1988 the Netherlands introduced mammography screening whereas Belgium initiated the process in 2005- and though this is a substantial amount of time- both populations still exhibit a downtrend in their mortality rates.
Aside from screening- Pizot postulates that the changes are multi-factorial cannot be linked to one change in particular. She states that drugs, cancer treatment, diet, exercise and exposure to certain carcinogenic materials on a daily basis could also play a role. These lifestyle factors being a significant contribution come into play when the data in South Korea revealed an 83% increase in breast cancer deaths. It is perhaps due to their large shift from a primarily agricultural society to one that has quickly adopted a more industrial, Westernized lifestyle; one wrought with new exposures that could be linked to this upswing.
As illustrated in the differences in trends in the US and South Korea, there is no one causal factor that can be linked to increase or decreasing mortality trends. To further clarify what such factors may be- Pizot recommends studies to compare the management of breast cancer across countries. Cecile Pizot works as an Epidemiologist at the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France.
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