Progress in the Fight Against Cancer

Cancer deaths declined, and information on breast cancer subtypes surfaced

The fight against cancer is ongoing, but the newest numbers offer a bit of good news.

A new annual report on cancer statistics found that cancer deaths were declining. It also provided new data on the prevalence of breast cancer subtypes in the United States.

“In addition to confirming the largely encouraging trends in cancer mortality rates for men, women, and children, this year’s report assesses breast cancer as four molecularly defined subtypes, not as a single disease. This is a welcome step, depending on medically important information that already guides therapeutic strategies for these subtypes,” said Harold Varmus, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in a press release.

The annual report is put together each year through a collaboration of the American Cancer Society (ACS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR) and NCI.

Total overall mortality due to cancer was on the decline across the board, the report authors, led by Betsy A. Kohler, MPH, CTR, of the NAACCR, found. The incidence of cancer was also declining among men and children, but it remained at a steady level for women.

Specifically, for both men and women, lung cancer and colorectal cancer rates were on the decline, but thyroid, kidney and liver cancers were on the rise.

This year's report also went into specific detail about breast cancer. It investigated four subtypes and the differences in rates between groups.

Breast cancer is divided into subtypes by the genetic makeup of the tumor. There are two genes that are often mutated in breast cancer: HR and HER2. Tumors are categorized by their HR+/- and HER2 +/- status.

HR+/HER2- breast cancer was the most common subtype and the least aggressive. It was more common in whites and people with lower incomes. Kohler and team suggested that this may be due to increased medical care and detection — especially since it is often identified in the early stages.

HR-/HER2- (also called triple-negative) breast cancer was the most aggressive type. It was more common among blacks. This may be why blacks had the highest numbers of breast cancer deaths, Kohler and team said.

Kohler and team noted that knowledge about breast cancer subtypes could help education efforts aimed at certain groups. For instance, black women should be advised of their risk for the aggressive triple-negative subtype and ways to lower their risk, Kohler and team said.

This report was published online March 30 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The ACS, CDC, NCI and NAACCR funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.