According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed among US women (except for skin cancer). It’s the second leading cause of cancer death among women, right behind lung cancer, and it affects 1 in 8 American women. This means that a woman living in the US has a 12.4 percent lifetime chance of being diagnosed, and that’s 12.4 percent too many.
That’s why there are so many organizations devoted to help increase breast cancer education, awareness, and funding research to hopefully find a cure. They, and the doctors and specialists who’ve dedicated their lives to research and prevention, have done so well that breast cancer death rate has dropped almost 40 percent, according to a new report by the American Cancer Society.
From 1989 to 2015 breast cancer death rates have decreased by 39 percent in the United States, meaning 322,600 women have survived the disease. From 2006 to 2015, these death rates decreased in all racial/ethnic groups. According to Deanna Attai, a breast cancer surgeon at UCLA who spoke to The Washington Post, the decrease in death rates may be attributed to advances in treatment, including “better chemotherapy regimens that are administered post-surgery to reduce the risk of occurrence.” Also to potentially thank is the anti-estrogen agent tamoxifen, and Herceptin, “a drug used to treat tumors with a higher-than-normal-level of a protein called HER2 and drugs called aromatase inhibitors,” the Post reports
Unfortunately, there is still a large racial disparity when it comes to diagnoses. From 2005 to 2014, the American Cancer Society reports that overall breast cancer incidence rates (not to be confused with death rates) increased among Asian/Pacific Islanders (1.7 percent per year), non-hispanic black women (0.4 percent per year), and Hispanic women (0.3 percent), but said rates were stable in non-Hispanic white women and American Indian/Alaskan women.
Despite death rates seeing an overall drop, non-hispanic black women have had a 39 percent higher death rate than non-hispanic white women since 2011. This may be attributed to black women not benefitting from tamoxifen as much as white women because they’re less likely to be diagnosed with the kind of cancer that tamoxifen treats to begin with.
According to TIME, studies show that African-American women tend to develop a more aggressive type of breast cancer called triple negative. Those kind of tumors "don't recognize hormones like estrogen or progesterone or the protein HER2, all of which trigger abnormal growth." Furthermore, these women also tend to be diagnosed later in the disease, when options for treatment are eliminated and the cancer is too advanced. According to Susan G. Komen, black women also show lower rates of breastfeeding and excess weight in the abdomen areas, both factors that "may play a role" in triple negative breast cancer.
Approximately 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer, and 40,610 breast cancer deaths, are expected to occur among US women in 2017. We still have a lot of work to do, and thankfully, there are steps women can take to ensure early diagnosis or lower the chances of getting cancer. It’s important to be aware of a family history of breast cancer, as you may have inherited the risk, especially if a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) was affected.
Women ages 40 to 44 should consider starting annual mammograms, and women aged 45-54 should definitely get them every year. According to the American Cancer Society, screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
Furthermore, all women, regardless of age, should learn to self check their breasts for abnormalities, including texture and lumps. There are breast cancer risk factors we cannot control, like genetics. But we should make every single effort to take the necessary actions and prevent the disease where we can, including with early detection. Get to know your breasts, so you can recognize what is normal and what is not. You can also donate to research efforts like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and education/prevention initiatives like Bright Pink.
You might also like