Worldwide Risk of Being Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Increasing

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The chances of a woman being diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer are increasing, according to a new analysis of global trends over the last 30 years. The findings were published in September 2011 in the medical journal Lancet.

The researchers found that in 2010, there were over 1.6 million women diagnosed with breast cancer, compared to only 641,000 in 1980. In 2010 there were 454,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer, compared to 378,000 in 1980. The two cancers together accounted for the deaths of 625,000 women in 2010, compared to 424,000 in 1980.

In recent years the incidence of breast and cervical cancers has actually been declining somewhat in the United States and other industrialized countries. This is likely the result of a number of factors, one of which is a dramatic decline in the use of hormone replacement therapy by postmenopausal women. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in less industrialized areas of the world -- such as Africa, east Asia, and Latin America -- where the incidence of breast and cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths has been on the rise.

The researchers believe that the increasing numbers of breast and cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths in the world is a result of several factors:

  • an increase in the overall world population of women
  • a shift to an older average age -- the age when these cancers are more likely to be diagnosed
  • a shift in risk, with younger women having increasing risks of being diagnosed with, and dying from, breast and cervical cancer
  • The researchers found that breast and cervical cancer deaths take more of a toll on younger women in developing countries when compared to developed countries. In 2010, 23% of breast cancer deaths and 34% of cervical cancer deaths in developing countries occurred in women under the age of 50, compared to only 10% in developed countries such as the United States.

It's possible that some of the increase in cancer diagnoses is due to greater breast and cervical cancer awareness, so there are fewer instances of women who actually have one of these cancers but are never diagnosed. Still, the numbers of breast and cervical cancer deaths have increased over the last 30 years even though our understanding of these diseases, and the options for cancer treatments, have improved over the same time period.

Breastcancer.org recognizes that breast cancer is a worldwide problem of major proportions. Much of what we do is delivered through the Web by design, in the hope of making accessible, understandable, and compassionate information about breast cancer available to people worldwide. We recently made one small step toward better achieving that goal. We are pleased and proud to announce that in September 2011 we launched the first phase of a universal Spanish-language edition of Breastcancer.org. This achievement was long in the making, but with the encouragement and support of friends of the organization and you, the audience we serve, this ambition became a reality. Thank you!

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