There is a new sensational breast cancer story being blasted across the news today with headlines reading “Breast Cancer Cases in the US Could Rise 50% by 2030.” Of course, this isn’t news that any of us wants to read. And, as we should be doing with most cancer-related headlines, we need to hold off on pushing the panic button until we have all the facts.
Here’s what we know:
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute have developed a research model for predicting future rates of breast cancer occurrence. Their findings concluded that breast cancer rates will increase due to three factors: Increased life expectancy, increasing number of older women from the baby boom generation, and an increase in breast tumours that are estrogen-positive.
The first two factors are simple enough to understand with demographics: There will be an increase in older women who are living, and being a woman who ages is the number one risk factor for getting breast cancer, which means an increase in lifetime breast cancer cases (most of these occurring 60+).
The third factor, however, is a bit less clear-cut.
Unfortunately this study cannot definitively answer the question as to why estrogen-positive breast cancer is expected to increase. However, there is a growing amount of evidence that suggests a link between lifestyle factors such as body weight + physical fitness and breast cancer. The thinking is the more overweight you are, the more likely your body is to produce excess estrogen that can lead to cancer.
As much as headlines like today’s might throw us for a loop, we think it’s a great opportunity to reinforce Rethink’s message of a living a healthy, balanced lifestyle to help reduce your risk. Although we don’t yet know the secret to preventing breast cancer, we do know that there are active steps you can take to decrease your risk. Get active every day. Eat a healthy diet. Moderate your alcohol intake. Shake up your fitness routine and be proactive about your health, however you can.
And when looking at an increase in possible breast cancer diagnoses, it’s also important to note that the predicted cases of ER-positive breast cancer included carcinoma in-situ, which are non-invasive cancers that have not spread into the surrounding breast tissue. This type of cancer is not life-threatening in and of itself, but has the potential to become invasive if left untreated.
Women with this type of cancer have excellent prognoses and can often receive less aggressive treatment than those with invasive cancers. We must use this as a reminder that “breast cancer” has become an umbrella term for many different types of disease, with varying risk levels and outcomes. This is why I support the move towards personalized cancer treatment and precision medicine for all patients. Each woman’s diagnosis is unique and each cancer treatment should be too.
As a final note, and to inject some optimism into the conversation, when looking forward to fifteen years from now we will be facing a very different world of medicine. Science has come a very long way in terms of understanding the mechanisms of breast cancer and how to treat it. By 2030, there will likely be new strides in cancer research, and hopefully, even more effective ways to treat the disease. No one can say for certain what the future holds, but I look forward to news headlines filled with breakthroughs and progress.