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New Report Shows Depth and Breadth of Growing Public Health Threat from Breast Cancer

Findings show rapid increase in breast cancer incidence and death rates as well as significant disparities between developed and undeveloped regions


LYON, FRANCE – July 11, 2012 – The global burden of breast cancer is increasing and requires more urgent attention, according to the World Breast Cancer Report 2012 — published by the International Prevention Research Institute and funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure® — presented today at the National Cancer Institute Directors (NCID) meeting.

Over the past three decades, there has been an annual 3.1 percent increase in the global breast cancer burden. Most recent estimates indicate that this year there will be more than 1.6 million women diagnosed with breast cancer — compared to about 640,000 in 1980 — and next year the number of new cases will be 60,000 more than this year’s total.

“Breast cancer incidence and death rates are rising at alarming rates. There is an urgent need for us to make cancer control a global priority and work together to end this growing cancer pandemic,” said Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. “The World Breast Cancer Report 2012 is a call-to-arms in the war against breast cancer and provides a global perspective of breast cancer and the challenges women are facing worldwide.”

While the majority of new cases are diagnosed among women in developed countries, the number of deaths each year from breast cancer – approximately 450,000 in 2010 – are now equally split between developed and developing countries.

“More research is still needed to determine why women in developed countries tend to have a higher lifetime risk of developing breast cancer than those in developing countries,” said Brinker. “Although we don’t know all the factors that make up these differences, lifestyle and reproductive factors likely play a large role. In addition, low screening rates and incomplete reporting in developing countries make it challenging to know the actual numbers of new cases diagnosed and may explain some of the difference.”

A key finding from the report is that there are significant disparities between higher income and lower income countries and between rich and poor in high-income countries in all aspects of breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and outcome.

In high-income countries, breast cancer is being diagnosed more accurately and earlier and women are living longer; but in lower-income countries, at least half of women with breast cancer only seek medical attention when the disease is at an advanced stage and has metastasized to other parts of the body. Women in lower income settings face a lack of access to adequate early detection and diagnostic facilities, and when treatment is possible, the range of options is more limited than in developed countries.

“The imperative for reducing mortality in lower income countries is to take steps to reduce and eliminate women first coming to their doctor when their breast cancer is at an advanced, stage and palliative care is the only option,” said Professor Peter Boyle, an author of the report and founder of the International Prevention Research Institute. “We must create an environment to provide appropriate and effective treatment facilities and resources to treat all women with breast cancer no matter where, or in what circumstances, they live.”

In addition, the report found that there are also disparities even within higher income countries. For instance, in the United States, low-income women have a higher death rate than those with higher incomes. A variety of studies shows that survival does not differ among white and African American women entered into clinical trials or when they have equal access to high-quality treatment facilities. This indicated that in the general population, African American women go to their doctor when the disease is more advanced and may be less likely to have access to appropriate therapy.

Komen has a long standing commitment to addressing this public health burden in nations around the globe and in the United States. One example of this is Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon — an innovative public-private partnership that leverages the resources and infrastructure of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is a partnership between the George W. Bush Institute, the U.S. Department of State, PEPFAR, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

In the U.S., Komen and its 119 Affiliates fund hundreds of local programs to educate, screen and provide treatment support to reach women in vulnerable populations — minority women, low-income and uninsured women, women under 40 and women in rural areas. Komen also has funded more than $10 million to large-scale public health education, screening, treatment and outreach programs in St. Louis, Washington, D.C. and Chicago to help reduce death rates from breast cancer in vulnerable populations. This is in addition to Komen’s $55 million investment in research to help understand genetic or socio-economic issues that contribute to higher death rates from breast cancer in special populations.

“At Susan G. Komen for the Cure we favor a continuum of care approach and believe all women should have access to the very best resources and treatments,” said Brinker. “We must ensure that women don’t get lost along the continuum and that we eliminate the gaps in the system that result in poor outcomes across the world.”