PHILADELPHIA, April 20 (UPI) -- Researchers say incidents of breast cancer are expected to rise over the next 15 years. By 2030, rates may increase by as much as 50 percent.
New data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests that women over the age of 70 will account for the majority of the uptick in breast cancer rates. Researchers detailed their predictions on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, held in Philadelphia.
There is some good news amid the warnings. While breast cancer diagnoses, overall, are expected to increase, incidents of some types -- including two hard-to-treat subtypes (HER2-positive and triple-negative) of what's known as estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer -- are likely to decrease in the coming decades. Another silver lining is that breast cancer rates for women aged 50 to 69 are expected to fall.
Researchers say the increasing breast cancer rates are mostly the result of very positive fact that women are living longer. Detection techniques are also continuing to improve, enabling doctors to locate growths that may not require treatment and likely would have gone undetected five or ten years ago.
Over-diagnosis and over-treatment are hot topics in the healthcare industry. The latest figures serve to highlight those issues. Recent studies have suggested some increasingly popular practices -- like double mastectomies -- offer no quantifiable health benefits for those battling breast cancer. Nor do they help survivors avoid a relapse, many researchers say.
"There's certainly concern, especially in the older patients, about over-diagnosis of breast cancer, and that's one of the reasons that screening mammography can become very controversial in older patients," Dr. Sharon Giordano, a researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center who wasn't involved in the latest research, told TIME. "We don't want to end up diagnosing and treating a disease that would never cause a problem during the person's natural lifetime."
Researchers say the new numbers are meant to help healthcare providers to prepare for the challenges that lay ahead.
"In sum, our results suggest that although breast cancer overall is going to increase, different subtypes of breast cancer are moving in different directions and on different trajectories," lead researcher Philip S. Rosenberg, a senior investigator in the division of cancer epidemiology and genetics at NCI, explained in a press release. "These distinct patterns within the overall breast cancer picture highlight key research opportunities that could inform smarter screening and kinder, gentler, and more effective treatment."