Breast Cancer Death Rates Improving

U.S. women's breast cancer deaths dropped 24% from 1990 to
2003, a new study shows.

Women younger than 70 with estrogen-sensitive breast cancers had the biggest
decline in breast cancer deaths during that period.

So say breast cancer experts including Ismail Jatoi, MD, PhD. Jatoi directs
the Breast Care Center at the National Naval Medical Center and Uniformed
Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) in Bethesda, Md.

Using a national cancer database, Jatoi's team reviewed breast cancer death
rates from 1990 to 2003.

They found a 24% drop in breast cancer deaths during that period. But the
researchers didn't stop there; they took a closer look at the declining breast
cancer death rate.

Breast Cancer Death Rate Down

The researchers found that women younger than 70 had a steeper drop in their
breast cancer death rate than women aged 70 and older.

In addition, women with estrogen-sensitive breast tumors had a bigger
decline in their breast cancer death rate than women whose breast tumors aren't
sensitive to estrogen.

The biggest decline -- a 38% drop in the breast cancer death rate --
occurred in women younger than 70 with estrogen-sensitive breast cancers.

In contrast, women older than 70 with tumors not sensitive to estrogen
showed no significant decline in breast cancer deaths.

Breast Cancer Drugs, Screening

Breast cancer screening and treatment changed between 1990 and 2003, the
researchers note.

Two big changes during that time were mammography's widespread use to screen
for abnormal breast tissue and the drug tamoxifen's use in treating
estrogen-sensitive breast tumors.

Tamoxifen treatment may partly explain the drop in deaths from
estrogen-sensitive breast tumors, note Jatoi and colleagues.

They suggest that screening mammograms may be more likely to spot
slower-growing tumors, which tend to be estrogen-sensitive. However, the
researchers didn't test that theory directly.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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