Is The Number Of Breast Cancer Cases In The U.S. Increasing Or Decreasing?

Question asked by Tammy Aguilar: Hello. My name is Tammy Aguilar, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. I was wondering, is the occurrence of breast cancer increasing or declining in the United States?

Answer from Len Lichtenfeld, M.D.: That's a very important and actually very interesting question. The reality is, fortunately, that deaths from breast cancer have been declining for many years -- actually since the early 1990s. But what's even more interesting is that during that period of time, the numbers of breast cancers in this country were increasing.

However, recent research has shown that beginning in about 1999, the actual numbers of breast cancers started to decline. There was a very sharp decline in addition to that in 2002. A report came out, in July of that year, suggesting that hormone replacement therapy with combination estrogen and progesterone may actually increase the risk of breast cancer. As a result, a lot of women stopped hormone therapy, and almost immediately there was a sudden and significant decrease in breast cancer diagnoses. There may be other factors that account for that as well.

And perhaps the fact that women are not getting mammography as frequently as they used to may mean that fewer breast cancers are being diagnosed. So the bottom line is that we've had a decline in the number of deaths from breast cancer for many years, beginning in the early 1990s, and then more recently, beginning in the early part of this decade, we started to see a decline in the numbers of breast cancers diagnosed as well.

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