The number of women predicted to die from breast cancer each year is set to rise from 2022, because of factors including the UK’s ageing population and increasing obesity levels.
Research charity Breast Cancer Now has suggested that, while survival rates have improved, the mortality rate will begin increasing in four years’ time if current trends continue.
Around 55,000 women and 350 men in the UK are diagnosed with the disease each year, with more than 11,000 losing their lives. Almost all deaths are attributable to the development of incurable metastatic breast cancer – where the tumour cells spread to other parts of the body.
The charity predicted that 11,116 people will die from the disease by 2022. In 2017, 11,175 lost their lives, though this number is expected to continue to fall until 2021.
To tackle the predicted increase in mortality rate, Breast Cancer Now and health sector consultancy York Health Economic Consortium has called on the government to address the “widespread inequality” in cancer treatment across the UK.
The charity said more than 1,100 additional deaths could be prevented each year if the breast cancer mortality rates of all NHS clinical commissioning groups across England were brought into line with the top-performing 25%.
It also noted that breast screening fell to its lowest in a decade in 2016/17 (71.1%). If attendance increased to 80% for eligible women across all screening units, an additional 1,260 deaths could be prevented each year.
Public health interventions are also needed to reduce the mortality rate. It suggested that, without renewed health interventions to reduce cancer-causing issues such as obesity, more than 89,000 women could develop “avoidable” breast cancer by 2027.
Earlier this year, Bupa research found that four in 10 people were unsure of what to check for when looking for common cancers, which it warned could delay diagnosis.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This projected rise in breast cancer deaths is deeply worrying, but it is not too late to stop it. We now have a once in a generation opportunity to invest to stop thousands more women dying from breast cancer and we urge the government to act now.
“We know progress is achievable by tackling the unacceptable geographic variation in NHS diagnosis and care, improving screening attendance and supporting more women to make sustainable lifestyle changes.
“Preventing the spread of breast cancer, and finding ways to treat it effectively when it does, remains our greatest research challenge to improving survival – but we need the government to take every available opportunity to save lives.”