Examining the Numbers: Breast Cancer Prevalence in WNY

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 12:29pm
Assistant Member, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Looking at the most recent cancer data released by the New York State Cancer Registry and the CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries (2006-10), it appears that some counties in the Western New York area have higher-than-average breast cancer incidence rates when compared to the rest of New York State and the country.

In Erie and Niagara Counties, respectively, 139.4 and 138.0 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed per year, per 100,000 women. The statewide average is 127.7 while the U.S. average is 119.8. The good news, however, is that breast cancer death rates are either stable or falling in every WNY county, as it is in New York State and the entire country.

The numbers don’t lie, but we may be able to learn more about what exactly the data means by taking a closer look at a few other categories.

Mammography screening rates: Over 75 percent of American women over the age of 40 underwent mammography screening in the past two years and 77.7 percent were screened for breast cancer in New York State. Here in Erie County, only 68.9 percent of women had mammographic screening over the same period of time, below the state and U.S. average. Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Wyoming and Allegany Counties also came in at under 70 percent for mammography screening. Niagara County did better, with 74 percent of women screened, perhaps explaining why their breast cancer death rates are lower compared to those in Erie County. The death rate in Erie County is 27 per 100,000 women compared to 23.6 in Niagara County, which is closer to the state average of 22.3 per 100,000 women.

One message is clear — if breast cancer is caught early, it is very treatable! The five-year survival rate for stage 0 and 1 breast cancers is virtually 100 percent. This drops to 93 percent for stage 2 cancers, 72 percent for stage 3 cancers, and 22 percent for stage 4 cancers.

Obesity rates: Based on obesity statistics collected between 2008 and 2009 by the Center for Disease Control, 59 percent of all adults identify as overweight or obese in New York State, compared to 61 percent in Erie County and nearly 67 percent in Niagara County. Wayne County, near Rochester, has an obesity rate of 71.7 percent. Past studies show direct correlations between obesity, sedentary lifestyle and increased risk of breast cancer diagnosis.

Although October and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has come and gone, these numbers can serve as useful year-round reminders. We can’t do anything about breast cancer risk factors such as age, race and genetics. However, we can do everything possible to catch breast cancer early and manage our weight.

As Tracey O’Connor, MD, explains in a recent blog entry, exercise can help ward off breast cancer, as well as assist survivors in the healing process. Proper nutritional intake is also important when considering how to cut your breast cancer risk.

Additionally, remember that mammography is currently the best way to detect breast cancer. All women over the age of 40 should undergo annual mammograms. Earlier this year, Ermelinda Bonaccio, MD, discussed further benefits of mammography with RPCI Cancer Talk and also addressed the risks associated with this test.

If you believe you may be at high risk of developing breast cancer, we invite you to complete our Risk Assessment and Prevention Program form. You may also learn more about this program by calling 1-877-ASK-RPCI.