Breast cancer incidence to increase by 2040, but not mortality

By Kate Madden Yee, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

April 7, 2021 -- Breast cancer incidence will likely grow over the next two decades in the U.S., although mortality rates for the disease will decrease, according to a study on changes in cancer incidence and death published April 7 in JAMA Network Open.

There will be major changes in cancer incidence and mortality over the next 20 years, wrote a team led by Lola Rahib, PhD, of Cancer Commons in Mountain View, CA. Rahib and colleagues from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Manhattan Beach, CA, and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston hope that their data will help clinicians and policymakers set effective cancer research and treatment strategies.

"[Our] results estimate that leading cancer incidences and deaths in the U.S. will be notably different in the year 2040 compared with current ranking," the group noted. "These estimates will be important to guide research, health care, and health policy efforts and emphasize the importance of cancer screening, early detection, and prevention."

Cancer is the leading cause of death in people between the ages of 45 and 64, the authors wrote, and dealing with the disease requires a thorough understanding of incidence trends. Rahib's group conducted a study to examine potential trends using data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program as well as 2016 U.S. Census Bureau population growth projections.

The team found that overall cancer incidence is expected to increase by 12% in the U.S., from 1.7 million in 2020 to 1.9 million in 2040. For particular cancers, liver cancer is expected to have the highest increase in incidence, followed by melanoma and leukemia; breast cancer incidence will rise by more than a third.

Estimated U.S. cancer incidence by 2040, top 10
Type of cancer 2020 2040 Percent change
Liver 43,000 100,000 133%
Melanoma 101,000 219,000 117%
Leukemia 61,000 103,000 69%
Pancreatic 56,000 93,000 66%
Kidney and renal pelvis 70,000 109,000 56%
Thyroid 59,000 90,000 53%
Uterine 65,000 99,000 52%
Oral 50,000 76,000 52%
Breast 272,000 364,000 34%
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 78,000 97,000 24%

Regarding cancer death rates, the group predicted an overall decrease of 27%, from 568,000 cancer deaths in 2020 to 410,000 in 2040. By particular cancer, uterine cancer is expected to have the highest increase in mortality rate (50%), followed by liver (37%) and brain (18%); lung cancer will see the highest mortality rate decrease, followed by lymphoma and leukemia.

Breast cancer mortality will decrease by 25%, which the authors attributed to "screening and treatment advances, such as the adoption of mammography and endocrine therapy."

Estimated decreases in cancer deaths in U.S. by 2040, top 10
Type of cancer 2020 2040 Percent change
Lung 130,000 63,000 -51%
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 19,000 12,000 -36%
Leukemia 22,000 15,000 -32%
Colorectal 49,000 34,000 -31%
Ovarian 13,000 9,000 -31%
Breast 40,000 30,000 -25%
Kidney and renal pelvis 14,000 11,000 -21%
Esophagus 15,000 12,000 -20%
Prostate 29,000 26,000 -10%
Urinary bladder 17,000 16,000 -6%

The study findings could be key to handling the burden of cancer going forward, according to the researchers. Effective screening will be crucial.

"The estimated absolute number of cancer diagnoses and deaths will be important to inform the need for professionals trained to recognize and care for individuals with the disease, the burden on insurance companies and government programs, and the allocation of research funding to support future prevention and treatments," they concluded. "Further research investment into effective screening and, where possible, elimination of premalignant lesions, will substantially alter the future burden of cancer on the U.S. population."


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