Continued Breast Cancer Mortality Decline

Continued Breast Cancer Mortality Decline

December 9, 2016


News Release

Breast Cancer Mortality Rates Decline in Many Countries

South Korea, parts of Latin America are exceptions

SAN ANTONIO — Breast cancer mortality rates continue to decline in many nations, but a review of mortality trends in 47 countries around the world indicates some significant disparities, particularly in South Korea and some Latin American nations, according to results presented at the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held Dec. 6–10.

“Breast cancer is by far the primary cancer site in women and, worldwide, represents a quarter of all cancers in women,” said the study’s lead author, Cécile Pizot, MSc, at the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France. “Comparing mortality trends between countries helps identify which health care systems have been the most efficient at reducing breast cancer mortality.”

In this study, Pizot and colleagues extracted information on breast cancer deaths from the World Health Organization database and calculated mortality rates over the years 1987-2013, stratifying results according to age groups.

Overall, breast cancer mortality declined in 39 out of 47 countries, including the United States and most developed European nations. England and Wales had the sharpest drop in mortality, with a 46 percent decline. Pizot said this trend was to be expected, due to advances in detection and treatment over the past few decades.

Latin American nations experienced scattered increases in mortality; for example, Brazil and Colombia saw mortality rates increase in women of all age groups, while in Argentina and Chile mortality rates decreased in all women.

South Korea had the most dramatic increase in breast cancer mortality, with an 83 percent increase overall and higher mortality in every age group. However, the breast cancer mortality rate is still lower than the rate in the United States (5.3 per 100,000 women in South Korea compared with 14 per 100,000 women in the United States in the 2011-2013 period).

“South Korea has experienced major societal changes since the 1950s and quickly evolved from an agricultural, developing country to a highly industrialized and Westernized country,” Pizot said. “Such quick changes might explain the considerable shift in cancer mortality.”

Other highlights of the study:

  • In the United States, the mortality rate declined 42 percent, from 22 deaths per 100,000 women in 1987-1989 to 14 deaths per 100,000 women in 2011-2013. Pizot said mortality rates declined for all age groups — by 50 percent for women under 50; by 44 percent for women between 50 and 69 years old; and by 31 percent for women 70 or older.
  • Globally, mortality rates declined more for women under 50 than for women over 50. Pizot said this reflects the fact that younger women tend to receive more intense treatments (such as longer courses of chemotherapy) which prolong their survival and may defer breast cancer death in older ages.
  • Pizot said that the role of breast cancer screening is not clearly apparent in mortality trends. She said the study revealed several cases where nations with similar geographic locations and socioeconomic status experienced similar trends, no matter whether the country has used mammography screening since the 1980s or whether mammography was introduced in 2005 or later.

“This finding underlines the difficulty of isolating a single, common factor that would have a major influence on mortality trends,” Pizot said, adding that future research on breast cancer mortality should focus on other facets of breast cancer management, including risk factors, drug therapies, access to care, and the use of multidisciplinary teams.

“Differences in health care systems and patient management could explain discrepancies in mortality reduction between similar countries,” Pizot said. “However, there is at present little data comparing the management of breast cancer patients across countries.”

Pizot said a limitation of the study is that data were unavailable for many Latin American, Asian, and African nations.

This study was funded internally by the International Prevention Research Institute. Pizot has no conflicts of interest.


Abstract Publication Number: P5-08-04

Title: Overview of breast cancer mortality trends in the world

Presentation: Friday, Dec. 9, Poster Session 5, 5 p.m. CT

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Follow the meeting on Twitter: #SABCS16

The mission of the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is to produce a unique and comprehensive scientific meeting that encompasses the full spectrum of breast cancer research, facilitating the rapid translation of new knowledge into better care for patients with breast cancer. The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), and Baylor College of Medicine are joint sponsors of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. This collaboration utilizes the clinical strengths of the CTRC and Baylor and the AACR’s scientific prestige in basic, translational, and clinical cancer research to expedite the delivery of the latest scientific advances to the clinic. For more information about the symposium, please visit


iPRI Commentary

“The continuous improvements in the management of breast cancer patients that took place since the 1980s are playing a major role in these mortality reductions. The impact of mammography screening itself on mortality reductions seems to be limited, while at the same time this screening has led to the detection of many small cancers or of lesions (e.g., the “in situ cancers”) of unknown clinical significance, that would never had presented a hazard to a women’s health in her lifetime (i.e., overdiagnosis)” said Professor Philippe Autier.

He continued “Nonetheless, the implementation of screening programmes has undoubtedly contributed to increase the “breast awareness”, to reducing the stigma associated with breast cancer and to increasing the quality of health care services. There is a need to find a better screening test for breast cancer rather than mammography: a test which is really able to early detect cancers before they progress to an advanced stage that is difficult to treat and with minimal harm in terms of over-diagnosis. Research efforts on should thus focus on alternative technologies for breast cancer screening”.

“These reductions in the death rate from breast cancer around the world are impressive” stated Professor Peter Boyle. “Since the start of the declines in death rates, from around 1990, the mortality rates have kept going down without any sign of slowing-down”.

“There is thus a fairly great chance that in many countries, dying from breast cancer will become increasingly uncommon, and this would represent one of the greatest achievement of modern medicine” said Professor Boyle “This is good news for women worldwide.”



eCancer interview with Cécile Pizot:

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