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As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, the American Cancer Society says progress against the disease should not obscure the significant challenges remaining.

While overall rates of breast cancer in black and white women are about the same, black women are 20-40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer. The reason for this disparity is likely due to several factors, including genetics, the biology of the cancer, and differences in healthcare. Because black women have higher breast cancer mortality rates than white women, the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging have recommended that black women be added to groups considered at high risk for breast cancer. This is the first time black women have been classified as a high-risk group.

The recommendations were published in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The Facts: Thanks to largely stable incidence rates, improved treatment, and earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, a woman’s risk of dying of breast cancer dropped 39 percent between the late 1980s and 2015, translating into more than 300,000 breast cancer deaths avoided during that time.

However, despite that progress, breast cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, second only to lung cancer. There is still a large racial gap in mortality, with African-American women having higher death rates compared to whites, even as incidence rates are similar. There is still much be done.

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the United States for
2018 are:

  • About 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 63,960 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 40,920 women will die from breast cancer.
  • While black and white women get breast cancer at roughly the same rate, the mortality rate is 42% higher among black women than white women.

At this time, there are more than 3.1 million people with a history of breast cancer in the United States – including women still being treated and those who have completed treatment.

Risk factors:

  • Numerous studies have confirmed that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women by about 7-10 percent for each one drink of alcohol consumed per day on average. Women who have 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day have a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to non-drinkers.
  • Obesity increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Risk is about 1.5 times higher in overweight women and about 2 times higher in obese women than in lean women.
  • Growing evidence suggests that women who get regular physical activity have a 10-25 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who are inactive, with stronger evidence for postmenopausal than premenopausal women
  • Limited but accumulating research indicates that smoking may slightly increase breast cancer risk, particularly long-term, heavy smoking and among women who start smoking before their first pregnancy.

What the American Cancer Society is Doing

The ACS currently funds 155 multi-year grants focused on breast cancer totaling $60.2 million. The organization has played a key role in many of the advances against breast cancer, including funding early work that eventually led to the development of tamoxifen and Herceptin.

To learn more about ACS CAN’s advocacy work and to help make fighting breast cancer a priority in your community, visit acscan.org/makingstrides.

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