Spain has one of the lowest rates of breast cancer in Europe, though estimated incidence has risen substantially in recent decades. Some years ago, the Spanish Cancer Mortality Atlas showed Spain as having a heterogeneous distribution of breast cancer mortality at a provincial level. This paper describes the municipal distribution of breast cancer mortality in Spain and its relationship with socio-economic indicators.
Breast cancer mortality was modelled using the Besag-York-Molliè autoregressive spatial model, including socio-economic level, rurality and percentage of population over 64 years of age as surrogates of reproductive and lifestyle risk factors. Municipal relative risks (RRs) were independently estimated for women aged under 50 years and for those aged 50 years and over. Maps were plotted depicting smoothed RR estimates and the distribution of the posterior probability of RR>1.
In women aged 50 years and over, mortality increased with socio-economic level, and was lower in rural areas and municipalities with higher proportion of old persons. Among women aged under 50 years, rurality was the only statistically significant explanatory variable. For women older than 49 years, the highest relative risks were mainly registered for municipalities located in the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, the Mediterranean coast of Catalonia and Valencia, plus others around the Ebro River. In premenopausal women, the pattern was similar but tended to be more homogeneous. In mainland Spain, a group of municipalities with high RRs were located in Andalusia, near the left bank of the Guadalquivir River.
As previously observed in other contexts, mortality rates are positively related with socio-economic status and negatively associated with rurality and the presence of a higher proportion of people over age 64 years. Taken together, these variables represent the influence of lifestyle factors which have determined the increase in breast cancer frequency over recent decades. The results for the younger group of women suggest an attenuation of the socio-economic gradient in breast cancer mortality in Spain. The geographical variation essentially suggests the influence of other environmental variables, yet the descriptive nature of this study does not allow for the main determinants to be established.