Breast Cancer Deaths Drop Again

Despite Decline, African-American Death Rate Still Higher

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 30, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 30, 2009 -- Breast cancer death rates dropped 2%, continuing a decade-long decline, the American Cancer Society reports.

That means about 15,000 deaths were avoided in 2009 alone, the ACS estimates.

Breast cancer deaths declined among African-American women. But African-Americans are still 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than are white women in the U.S.

And although fewer white women are getting diagnosed with breast cancer, rates have remained stable among African-Americans.

"While there is much to celebrate in the fight against cancer, this report is also a strong reminder that far too many women still die of breast cancer," Elizabeth "Terry" T.H. Fontham, DrPH, ACS national volunteer president, says in a news release. "We need to make sure all women have access to information to help them reduce their risk and to resources to ensure early detection and the best possible treatment."

This year, nearly 200,000 U.S. women will be told they have breast cancer, the ACS estimates, and more than 40,000 women will die of the disease. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among U.S. women.

Breast cancer rates -- which reflect disease occurrence and how completely the population is screened -- differ among states and by race:

  • The state with the lowest breast cancer rate for white women is Utah, with 111.5 cases per 100,000 women.
  • The state with the lowest breast cancer rate for African-American women is New Mexico, with 60.9 cases per 100,000 women.
  • The state with the highest breast cancer rate for white women is Hawaii, with 139.1 cases per 100,000 women.
  • The state with the highest breast cancer rate for African-American women is Kentucky, with 127.3 cases per 100,000 women.

Even though white women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a higher rate than African-American women, they have a lower death rate. Death rates among white women range from 21.7 per 100,000 in Hawaii to 27.3 in New Jersey; among African-American women they range from 20.9 in Rhode Island to 40.0 in Louisiana.

This disparity is captured in another statistic: 90% of white women, but only 78% of African-American women, survive at least five years after their breast cancer diagnosis.

As of January 2006, when the latest figures were compiled, some 2.5 million U.S. women were breast cancer survivors. Most of them were cancer free.

The ACS report on breast cancer comes out every two years. Here are some other facts and figures from the current report, which compiles data from 2002 to 2006:

  • 95% of breast cancer cases and 97% of breast cancer deaths were in women aged 40 and older.
  • Half of women diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than 61.
  • Breast cancer incidence dropped sharply from 2002 to 2003, particularly among women aged 50-69. Many experts think this is because of the sudden decline in postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy in 2002.


Show Sources


American Cancer Society: "Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2009-2010."

News release, American Cancer Society.

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