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Experts Predict Increase in Breast and Prostate Cancer Cases Over Next 20 Years (dateline June 28, 2001)

At a meeting of charity organizations, British medical experts predicted an increase in the number of breast and prostate cancer diagnoses in many industrialized countries but a decrease in the number of overall cancer deaths over the next 20 years. The experts attributed the increase in breast and prostate cancer cases to an aging population since the risk of both cancers increases as people get older. The decrease in overall cancer deaths is due to improved detection and treatments. The experts also made predictions on other cancers, including lung and cervical cancer.

Lung cancer cases in wealthy countries such as Britain and the United States will decline by 50% over the next 20 years, predicted Gordon McVie, Director General of the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), at a conference of several top British charities. Other charities at the conference included the Imperial Research Fund and the International Union Against Cancer. The decline in smoking is most likely due to public education about the dangers of cigarettes.

However, the experts predicted that breast and prostate cancer cases will increase in the next 20 years. This coincides with a recent report by several American organizations including the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society that found that the rate of breast cancer increased by more than 40% from 1973 to 1998. However, in the American report, experts cited the significant improvement and widespread use of screening mammography, not patient age, as a possible explanation for the increased number of cases. Mammography helps detect breast cancer in its early stages when the chances for successful treatment and survival are the greatest. The number of deaths from breast cancer fell throughout the 1990s in the United States, and the British experts believe the death rate from breast cancer will continue to fall in developed countries.

In fact, the CRC experts predicted that a trend toward healthier eating and improved cancer screening and treatment will help physicians gain some much needed control over cancer in the next two decades. They cited research that showed that 30% of all cancers in developed countries are a result of unhealthy diets. These cancers could be prevented with changes to diet, the experts predicted. For example, the results of a study by the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) showed that a diet rich in fish decreased the risk of colon cancer while a diet rich in ham, bacon, and salami increased risk of the disease.

The British experts also predicted a continued decrease in the number of cases of cervical cancer in developed countries as screening exams and vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV) are developed. HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease, and some strains of HPV increase the risk of cervical cancer. Widespread Pap smear testing is primarily responsible for the reduction in cervical cancer cases and deaths in recent years.

In a report released in June 2001 by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that deaths from heart disease also fell in 1999. However, the CDC reported a slight increase in the number of deaths from high blood pressure, chronic lower respiratory disease, and diabetes.

Leading Causes of Death in America
  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Stroke
  4. Chronic lower respiratory disease
  5. Unintentional injuries

* Source: CDC. Data from 1999.

According to the British experts, countries such as Britain and the United States should do their best to help developing countries avoid some of their mistakes (such as widespread cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and "junk food" addictions) to help control the prevalence of cancer. Meanwhile, as breast cancer cases increase, experts recommend that women get routine screenings to help find the disease in its earliest stages when it can be highly treatable.

Guidelines for early breast cancer detection:

  • All women between 20 and 39 years of age should practice monthly breast self-exams and have physician performed clinical breast exams at least every three years.
  • All women 40 years of age and older should have annual screening mammograms, practice monthly breast self-exams, and have yearly clinical breast exams. The clinical breast exam should be conducted close to and preferably before the scheduled mammogram.
  • Younger women with a family or personal history of breast cancer should talk to their physicians about beginning annual mammograms before age 40.

Additional Resources and References

  • The four-day conference of British medical charities sponsored by the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and the International Union Against Cancer was held in June 2001 in London, England.
  • The June 26, 2001 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.) press release, "Mortality Declines for Several Leading Causes of Death in 1999," is available at
  • The June 25, 2001 Reuters report is entitled, "Experts Say Improved Therapy Cutting Cancer Deaths,"
  • The June 8, 2001 Imaginis report, "New Report Shows Latest Trends in Cancer: Most Cancer Rates Down But Breast Cancer Rate Up," is available at
  • To learn more about cancer, please visit