WASHINGTON – The American Cancer Society says women face a one-in-eight chance of getting breast cancer and more than 40,600 will be killed this year in the U.S. by the disease.
But improved treatments and early detection are producing promising results, because fatalities from the cancer have dropped almost 40 percent between 1989 and 2015.
That, according to a new report released Tuesday by ACS, saved some 322,600 lives.
While breast cancer rates increased from 1975 to 1989, the study notes, the fatality rates have dramatically decreased, dropping an actual 39 percent over that period.
The results confirm a steady downward trend over recent years.
Advances in chemotherapy regimens that were developed in the 1980s, the introduction of new drugs like tamoxifen and Herceptin, and early detection through mammograms have reduced the likelihood of breast cancer patients dying from the disease, the report notes.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among U.S. women and is the second leading cause of cancer death among women after lung cancer, according to ACS.
The American Cancer Society publishes the “Breast Cancer Statistics” report every two years to track the latest trends in breast cancer incidence, mortality, survival and screening by race/ethnicity in the United States, as well as state variations in these measures.
The report reveals that black women continue to have higher breast cancer death rates than whites nationally.
“Non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black women have higher breast cancer incidence and death rates than women of other race/ethnicities; Asian/Pacific Islander (API) women have the lowest incidence and death rates,” the report states. “Although the overall breast cancer incidence rate during 2010 through 2014 was slightly lower in non-Hispanic black women than in non-Hispanic white, the breast cancer death rate during 2011 through 2015 was 42 percent higher in NHB women than in NHW women.”
The racial disparity emerged in the 1980s, revealing that black women were not undergoing the screening and treatment advances of their white counterparts, according to the report.
The report also links the physiology of black and white women to the discrepancy, noting that black women do not benefit from the development of tamoxifen because they are less inclined to have the type of breast cancer known as “estrogen-receptor positive” that the drug alleviates.
In addition, black women are twice as likely as white women to develop “triple negative breast cancer,” which can be more difficult to treat, the report noted.
But the black-white disparity is stabilizing.
The death rate for black women diagnosed with breast cancer was 39 percent higher than that of white women in 2015, but it was 44 percent higher in 2011, according to ACS.
The excess death rate in blacks varies widely in the United States, ranging from 20 percent in Nevada to 66 percent in Louisiana.
But there were no significant differences in breast cancer death rates between black and white women in seven states, according to the study, while Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware had similar rates, suggesting equitable breast cancer outcomes are feasible.
Carol DeSantis, lead author of the report, asserted social and economic factors may play a role in why black women have a higher death rate from breast cancer.
“A large body of research suggests that the black-white breast cancer disparity results from a complex interaction of biologic and nonbiologic factors, including differences in stage at diagnosis, tumor characteristics, obesity, other health issues, as well as tumor characteristics, particularly a higher rate of triple negative cancer,” DeSantis said.
“But the substantial geographic variation in breast cancer death rates,” she continued, “confirms the role of social and structural factors, and the closing disparity in several states indicates that increasing access to health care to low-income populations can further progress the elimination of breast cancer disparities.”
DeSantis and her colleagues used Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program and National Program of Cancer Registries data to project the number of new breast cancer cases for 2017 and examine trends in breast cancer incidence, mortality, survival.