The number of U.S. women diagnosed with breast cancer could rise by as much as 50 percent within the next 15 years, according to new government predictions.
Researchers say there will be an increase in breast tumors that are “ER-positive” — which means they rely on the hormone estrogen to fuel their growth. And because of the aging population, women older than 70 will account for a growing proportion of breast cancer cases.
There is some “good news,” however, said study leader Philip Rosenberg, a senior investigator at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
The number of ER-negative breast cancers is expected to drop in coming years, and those tumors can be among the most difficult to treat, Rosenberg said.
But that’s not the only reason the decline is encouraging, he added.
“There could be a breast cancer-prevention clue in that decline,” Rosenberg said. “Understanding the ‘why’ behind the trend will be very important.”
Rosenberg is scheduled to present the findings Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The rate of ER-positive breast cancer has been on the rise for decades, so it’s no surprise that more U.S. women will be diagnosed with the disease in coming years, said Dr. Graham Colditz, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
He said the increase in those cancers is thought to be related to certain “Western” lifestyle factors — such as obesity, lack of exercise and exposure to hormones (through birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, for instance).
But it’s much less clear why ER-negative tumors are on the wane, said Colditz, who was not involved in the study.
“It will be important to figure out the mechanisms,” he said.
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