Breast Cancer: 10 Years of Progress
Breast cancer patient Debbie
Osborne and her husband, Stephen
ride in the family's annual biking
event to celebrate life, family,
and breast cancer awareness.
"To some, the last 10 years may appear to have been sluggish," says Susan Braun, president and chief executive officer of Komen. "But what we've been doing is creating the base of science and information technology and public awareness that will be the springboard from which immense progress will come in the next 10 years."
Adds Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, 53, a breast cancer survivor, gynecological oncologist, member of the President's National Cancer Advisory Board, and Director of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut, "We've made major progress in the past decade, but breast cancer is a major and unmistakable health problem in this country. We've made strides but we still see way too many women presenting with advanced stages of the disease. Too many people still are dying."
In fact, the number of deaths each year from breast cancer has declined about 10% since 1996 (from 44,300 to the current 40,110) according to data from the American Cancer Society. However, the number of cases diagnosed has risen -- from 184,300 in 1996 to an estimated 215,990 this year. This may be the result of better diagnostic techniques and early detection.
Growing most rapidly are the number of cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a form of breast cancer in which the tumor has not spread beyond its borders into lymph or other systems. And the number of DCIS cases is expected to grow rapidly as diagnostic techniques continue to improve.
Current data suggest that, based on living to the age of 85 to 90 years, the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer among American women is 1 in 7, up from 1 in 10 two decades ago. "That sounds discouraging," says Braun of the Komen Foundation. "But we think it will level off."
The good statistical news is that survival rates are improving. According to American Cancer Society data, 87 percent of women are still alive five years after diagnosis; 77 percent after 10 years; 63 percent after 15 years; and 52 percent after 20 years.
Research funding for breast cancer, meanwhile, has skyrocketed. Between the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense, the federal government this year will spend nearly $800 million on breast cancer, double the amount spent 10 years ago, according to federal statistics. Strides have been made in every phrase of the disease, doctors and patients agree, from prevention and education to diagnosis and treatment.
"The advocacy movement can take a great deal of the credit for the increase in funding," says Weiss. "Women care passionately about this disease, which robs them of life in the prime of their life. They want the cure and they want it now."