By Rachel Raab, MD
A recent study shows from 1989 to 2015, breast cancer death rates decreased by 39 percent, which translates to 322,600 averted breast cancer deaths in the United States. The decrease in mortality was seen in both younger and older women but has slowed for women younger than age 50 since 2007.
Why mortality rates are declining
Declines in breast cancer mortality are attributed to early detection by mammography and improvements in treatment, mainly hormonal therapy in the 1980s and targeted therapies in the 1990s.
The largest improvement in survival was for individuals with regional-stage, but there were improvements in survival seen in stage IV breast cancer as well. Improvements in breast cancer stage- specific survival are related to earlier detection by mammography as well as improved treatments.
Still much work to be done
While the death rates for all racial groups declined from 2006 to 2015, non-Hispanic black women continue to have a higher breast cancer death rate than non-Hispanic white women. The increase in breast cancer deaths for non-Hispanic black women is complex and due to multiple factors related to stage at diagnosis (higher stage), tumor characteristics, higher incidence of triple negative breast cancer, which has a lower overall survival, decreased access to screening and care, possible lower adherence to prescribed therapies.
Although much progress has been made there is a lot of work to be done especially in regards to increasing access to healthcare in hopes of decreasing the racial disparities in breast cancer diagnosis and survival.
Rachel Raab, MD, is a medical oncologist with Cancer Care of Western North Carolina and director of the Mission Breast Program.
To schedule an exam, call Mission Breast Center at (828) 213-XRAY (9729).