Ask Dr. Ulissey | January Q/A

  • Thursday, January 18, 2018 1:41pm
  • Life

Q: I understand that a recent report indicates death rates from cancer have declined in the past 20 to 30 years. Is this true for breast cancer?

A: Yes, it is. As reported about two weeks ago by the American Cancer Society, death rates throughout many cancers have declined in the last few decades. Lung cancer had the greatest decline, with about a 45 percent decrease among men and a 19 percent decrease among women. We attribute this most likely to a significant decrease in smoking rates in the United States.

The death rate from breast cancer has declined 39 percent for women in the U.S., and this is mostly due to the advent of screening mammography. Our initial research indicated about a 31 percent drop, but with more awareness about early detection, we seem to have been able to eek out a bit more decline in mortality – good news for women.

In my opinion, this is especially good because only about half (some estimates say fewer that 50 percent) of eligible women get their mammograms on a regular basis. Countries like Sweden are able to realize significantly more decline in death rates, likely because more than 75 percent of women get their routine mammograms.

And, of course, the death rates for several other cancers have also dropped significantly in the U.S. – so let’s all keep up the good work.

Michael J. Ulissey, M.D., is a partner at the Breast Diagnostic Centers of Auburn and Federal Way. In addition to taking care of patients locally, he continues to participate in research as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center. You can reach him at

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