Background: Worldwide, breast cancer is the most common cancer and is the leading cause of cancer death among women.
Methods: To describe global trends, we compared age-adjusted incidence and mortality rates over three decades (from 1973-77 to 1993-97) and across several continents.
Results: Both breast cancer incidence and mortality rates varied 4-fold by geographic location between countries with the highest and lowest rates. Recent (1993-1997) incidence rates ranged from 27/100,000 in Asian countries to 97/100,000 among US white women. Overall, North American and northern European countries had the highest incidence rates of breast cancer; intermediate levels were reported in Western Europe, Oceania, Scandinavia, and Israel; and Eastern Europe, South and Latin America, and Asia had the lowest levels. Breast cancer incidence rose 30-40% from the 1970s to the 1990s in most countries, with the most marked increases among women aged > or =50 years. Mortality from breast cancer paralleled incidence: it was highest in the countries with the highest incidence rates (between 17/100,000 and 27/100,000), lowest in Latin America and Asia (7-14/100,000), and rose most rapidly in countries with the lowest rates.
Conclusions: Breast cancer incidence and mortality rates remain highest in developed countries compared with developing countries, as a result of differential use of screening mammograms and disparities in lifestyle and hereditary factors. Future studies assessing the combined contributions of both environmental and hereditary factors may provide explanations for worldwide differences in incidence and mortality rates.