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Why is the number of women with breast cancer increasing?

No one knows for sure why the number of women with breast cancer is increasing. The population is ageing, and age is an important risk factor for breast cancer. The population is also getting heavier, and obesity is an important risk factor. Societal shifts in known risk factors like older age with the birth of a first child, tobacco and alcohol use are all likely playing a role as well. But poorly understood environmental factors may also be at play.

Dr. Amanda J. Morehouse, MD
Critical Care Surgeon

One explanation for why some breast cancer rates are increasing is because detection is improving. Mammography techniques have improved. They can find things increasingly smaller that maybe wouldn't have been detected previously. The number of invasive breast cancers in the population is actually stable. The number of breast cancers is increasing slightly in the African American population, but why that's the case is unexplained.

Dr. Deanna J. Attai, MD
Surgeon

One of the reasons the number of women with breast cancer may be increasing is that healthcare providers are looking harder for it. Mammogram technology has improved so we are detecting smaller cancers.

Women are now having children later in life, which is associated with an increased breast cancer incidence. Also, obesity rates are rising and we are a more sedentary society which can contribute to breast cancer risk.

While breast cancer has become more common, the cause for the increasing incidence is unclear. All cancers are caused by abnormalities in a person’s genes. Some of these abnormalities (mutations) are inherited, and some are acquired by life activities, like smoking. For example, doctors know that the risk for breast cancer is elevated in women who are obese or who drink alcohol, but the increased risk is small. Doctors frequently see women with breast cancer who have a negative family history, but seem to do all of the right things relative to diet and lifestyle.

Why does this happen? Unfortunately, doctors still don’t know.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.