Status Report: U.S. Breast Cancer Incidence Rates NOT Declining

I have some good news and some bad news.

First the good news: The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer finds continued declines in many cancer rates.

Now the bad news: But not for breast cancer.

And now the really bad news: A considerable number of journalists, bloggers and hoi polloi will fall victim to the masterful spin job brought to you by NCI, ACS, CDC and NAACCR  PR flacks.

Read the first two paragraphs of the press release:

Rates of death in the United States from all cancers for men and women continued to decline between 2003 and 2007, the most recent reporting period available, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. The report also finds that the overall rate of new cancer diagnoses for men and women combined decreased an average of slightly less than 1 percent per year for the same period.

The drop in cancer death rates continues a trend that began in the early 1990s. The report finds, for the first time, lung cancer death rates decreased in women, more than a decade after rates began dropping in men.

Awesome! We’re winning the cancer war! Woo hoo!

Notice, however, that the press release says practically nothing about breast cancer.


But if you follow this link you will eventually wend your way down to the very unsettling Question & Answer  No. 7:

What is happening with incidence trends for breast cancer?
Breast cancer incidence rates, which increased 1.1 percent per year from 1992 through 1999, declined an average of 1.8 percent per year from 1999 through 2007.  When examining incidence data for each year, the authors note that the decline in incidence does not continue after 2003. The factors that influence breast cancer incidence are complex, including changes in reproductive risk, obesity, the prevalence of mammography screening, and others. Recent reports suggest that the decrease in breast cancer incidence may be related to the rapid discontinuation of hormone replacement therapy, a known risk factor for breast cancer, as well as to a decline in mammography screening prevalence. A paper published Feb. 28, 2011, in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (CEBP), examined trends in breast cancer incidence from 2000 through 2007. The research showed a decrease in breast cancer incidence rates from 2002 through 2003, but that this decline abated after 2003.

Kudos to Medscape reporter Janis Kelly. Compare her article’s first three paragraphs to those of the  preceding press release:

March 8, 2011 — The sharp decline in breast cancer incidence rates seen in the United States in 2003 has leveled off. Incidence rates are no longer decreasing, and in fact might be increasing in some groups.

The findings come from a study conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), published online February 28 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The sharp drop in breast cancer incidence rates seen in non-Hispanic white women in the United States in 2003 appears to be largely due to the abrupt decline in postmenopausal hormone therapy use after the Women’s Health Initiative 2002 report on the adverse effects of combined hormone therapy use, the authors note. Breast cancer incidence has now leveled off, and might even be rising in some subgroups, particular in tandem with obesity rates, they add.

Thank you, Janis Kelly, for your diligent reporting .

And as for the PR team behind the Status Report press release, be careful. You’ll get awfully dizzy if you keep spinning like that.


5 thoughts on “Status Report: U.S. Breast Cancer Incidence Rates NOT Declining

  1. Anna says:

    Woo hoo Katherine !!! You are now officially a blogger !!!! This just goes to prove that the devil is always in the detail which is why I now question EVERYTHING! Thank you for always cutting through the smokescreens and PR flacks to get to the real truth.

  2. Gayle Sulik says:


    Thanks for shedding some more light on the spinning cancer statistics. Indeed, it does have a dizzying effect. Here’s an essay I wrote on Lessons to be RE-Learned from Elizabeth Edwards’ Death that speaks to these issues as well.

    And sign me up for that 3-day joyride. I’m not a person diagnosed with BC, but I’ve lost too many people to this disease and other cancers. It’s past time for the focus to shift.

  3. Katie says:

    Welcome to the fray!


  4. nancyspoint says:

    First of all, I really like the name of your blog. Thank you for sharing the good and bad news here. I am continually amazed at how statistics are so often manipulated. We always have to dig a little deeper don’t we?

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