In Belgium, breast cancer mortality has been monitored since 1954, whereas cancer incidence data have only been made available for a few years. In this article we update historical trends of breast cancer mortality and describe the recent breast cancer incidence.
Incidence data were extracted from the Belgium Cancer Registry from 2004 to 2006 for the Walloon and Brussels Regions and Belgium, and from 1999 to 2006 for the Flemish Region. The Directorate-general Statistics and Economic information provided the mortality data for the years 1954-1999 and 2004. The regional authorities of the Flemish and Brussels Regions provided the mortality data for the years 2000-2003 and 2005-2006.
In 2004, the World age-standardised breast cancer incidence for the whole of Belgium was 110 per 100, 000 person-years for all ages; and 172, 390 and 345 per 100, 000 person-years for the 35-49, 50-69, and 70+ age groups, respectively. The incidence rate was slightly higher in each age group in the Brussels Region. In Flanders, where the incidence could be observed during a longer period, an increase was observed until 2003 in the 50-69 age group, followed by a decrease. To the contrary, in the oldest age group, incidence continued to rise over the whole period, whereas no change in incidence was observed between 1999 and 2006 in the 35-49 age group.
Mortality increased until the late 1980s and afterwards decreased in all regions and in age groups younger than 70. In women of 70 years and older, the decline began later.
The burden of breast cancer in Belgium is very high. In 2004, Belgium ranked first for the age-standardised incidence rate in Europe for all ages combined and in the 35-49 and 50-69 age groups. The impact of the known risk factors and of mammographic screening should be further studied. The mortality rate in Belgium ranked lower than incidence, suggesting favourable survival. Plausible explanations for the discrepancy between incidence and mortality are discussed.