October 27, 2016

Age-adjusted breast cancer incidence rates have tripled in the USA since the mid-1930’s. Some of this increase may be due to detecting more cases by mammographic screening, but some is probably real. Either way, it is upsetting for a woman and her family to be told she has breast cancer. The treatments are often painful. The chemotherapy is often nauseating and toxic to heart and lungs.

While incidence rates have gone up, annual age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rates have declined from about 27 per 100,000 in 1930 to about 20 per 100,000 now. That is a little progress, but the USA still has far higher breast cancer death rates than most countries. The decline in mortality may be due to improvements in surgery and post surgical care, and possibly a little due to greater intake of vitamin D in recent years.

If all society does during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to recommend mammography screening every other year, though, we will sadly continue spinning our wheels for another 50 years in our efforts to defeat breast cancer.

Trying to improve early detection is not the answer. If we make the test more sensitive we will have higher incidence rate of breast cancer each year than we do now.

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