Breast cancer survival breakthrough: Death rates for women diagnosed with disease today are just a THIRD of levels logged 20 years ago
- The mortality rate of women diagnosed between 1993 and 1999 was 14%
- From 2010 to 2015 the chance of dying in the first 5 years of diagnosis fell to 5%
- READ MORE: NHS struggling to provide cancer patients safe care, experts warn
The death rate for women diagnosed with early breast cancer in England has plummeted 66 percent in the past two decades, according to reassuring data highlighting the country’s progress in fighting the disease.
A landmark study by scientists at the University of Oxford found those diagnosed with early invasive breast cancer between 1993 and 1999 had a 14 per cent chance of dying from the disease within the first five years.
But for women diagnosed between 2010 and 2015, the risk had dropped to just 5 per cent.
Experts today said the figures were ‘heartwarming’ and would come as ‘good news for the overwhelming majority of women’ with breast cancer.
The study is the first of its kind to include all 512,447 women who were diagnosed with early invasive breast cancer in England between January 1993 and December 2015, and follow up with them until December 2020.
A landmark study by scientists at the University of Oxford found those diagnosed with early invasive breast cancer between 1993 and 1999 had a 14 per cent chance of dying from the disease within the first five years. But for women diagnosed between 2010 and 2015, the risk had dropped to just 5 per cent
It is also the first of its size to map out characteristics of the patients and their cancer.
The data will enables doctors to provide accurate prognoses for women, helping them to plan their lives, researchers said.
For example, a patient in her 50s with a small, low-grade, hormone receptor positive breast cancer which hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes can be strongly reassured, because she has an excellent prognosis.
Early invasive breast cancer – defined as stage 1 or 2 – occurs when cancer cells have grown through the lining of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue.
Read more: Warning that overwhelmed NHS is struggling to provide safe care for cancer patients due to huge staffing shortages
With stage 1 breast cancer, the tumour is no more than 2cm, while those with stage 2 may have a tumour up to 5cm in size.
Between 70 and 80 per cent of all breast cancers are invasive.
‘The prognosis for women diagnosed with early invasive breast cancer has improved substantially since the 1990s,’ the authors wrote.
‘Most can expect to be long-term cancer survivors.’
Some of the potential drivers in the improvement in survival rates could include new treatments, improved radiotherapy, better detection and breast screening and studies which have uncovered varying characteristics of breast cancer, experts also said.
Dr Carolyn Taylor, a professor of oncology at Oxford Population Health and lead author of the paper, said: ‘Our study is good news for the overwhelming majority of women diagnosed with early breast cancer today because their prognosis has improved so much.
‘Their risk of dying from their breast cancer in the first five years after diagnosis is now 5 per cent.’
The data will also help doctors to provide more accurate prognosis for individual women, as it maps out characteristics of patients and their cancer, researchers said.
This provides reassurance for patients, while allowing them to plan their lives.
Dr Taylor added: ‘Our study shows that prognosis after a diagnosis of early breast cancer varies widely, but patients and clinicians can use these results to predict accurate prognosis moving forward.
‘In the future further research may be able to reduce the breast cancer death rates for women diagnosed with early breast cancer even more.’
Symptoms of breast cancer to look out for include lumps and swellings, dimpling of the skin, changes in colour, discharge and a rash or crusting around the nipple
Checking your breasts should be part of your monthly routine so you notice any unusual changes. Simply, rub and feel from top to bottom, feel in semi-circles and in a circular motion around your breast tissue to feel for any abnormalities
Meanwhile, Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: ‘It’s heart-warming news that women today have more time with their families and loved ones after an early breast cancer diagnosis.
‘Receiving any cancer diagnosis is an extremely worrying time, but this study can give patients a more accurate prognosis and offer reassurance for many women.’
She added: ‘Through the power of science, research, clinical trials and screening over the last 20 years, huge improvements have been made in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Read more: Six tell-tale signs of breast cancer revealed after Strictly star Amy Dowden’s shock diagnosis… and the ultimate DIY guide to checking your breasts
‘However, the UK lags behind other countries when it comes to cancer survival,’ she noted.
‘The governments across the UK must show political leadership in cancer by taking action to help diagnose and treat cancers earlier and ensure the NHS has enough staff and equipment to meet the growing demands of the future.’
It comes as poll of all 60 directors of the UK’s cancer centres by the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) last week, found 95 per cent feel staff shortages are leading to longer wait times for appointments and delays in cancer treatment.
Half of services surveyed reported ‘frequent delays’ in patients starting radiotherapy, occurring every month or most months, while at one in five centres (22 per cent), this was happening most weeks or every week.
According to one head of service, prostate radiotherapy patients in their area face a three-month minimum wait to receive treatment, while breast cancer patients also have a seven-to eight-week wait.
Around 56,800 women and men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, making it the most common cancer in the UK.
Roughly 300,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in women every year in the US.
According to Cancer Research UK, 11,300 people die of the disease each year, the UK’s fourth biggest cause of cancer death.
It has been estimated that by 2040 there will be 70,300 breast cancer diagnoses each year, because of a growing and ageing population.
Symptoms of breast cancer can include a new lump or thickening in the breast or armpit and a change in size, shape or feel of the breast.
Skin changes in the breast such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin, fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who isn’t pregnant or breast feeding and changes in the position of nipple, are also common signs.
The research, which was funded by Cancer Research UK, the University of Oxford and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, is published in the British Medical Journal.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world and affects more than two MILLION women a year
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases, and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the US, it strikes 266,000 each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer develops from a cancerous cell which develops in the lining of a duct or lobule in one of the breasts.
When the breast cancer has spread into surrounding breast tissue it is called an ‘invasive’ breast cancer. Some people are diagnosed with ‘carcinoma in situ’, where no cancer cells have grown beyond the duct or lobule.
Most cases develop in women over the age of 50 but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men, though this is rare.
Staging means how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. Stage 1 is the earliest stage and stage 4 means the cancer has spread to another part of the body.
The cancerous cells are graded from low, which means a slow growth, to high, which is fast-growing. High-grade cancers are more likely to come back after they have first been treated.
What causes breast cancer?
A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.
Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing breast cancer, such as genetics.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most breast lumps are not cancerous and are fluid filled cysts, which are benign.
The first place that breast cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs you will develop a swelling or lump in an armpit.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
- Initial assessment: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may do tests such as a mammography, a special x-ray of the breast tissue which can indicate the possibility of tumours.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.
If you are confirmed to have breast cancer, further tests may be needed to assess if it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the liver or a chest X-ray.
How is breast cancer treated?
Treatment options which may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. Often a combination of two or more of these treatments are used.
- Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or the removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumour.
- Radiotherapy: A treatment which uses high energy beams of radiation focused on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
- Chemotherapy: A treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer drugs which kill cancer cells, or stop them from multiplying.
- Hormone treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen, which can stimulate the cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments which reduce the level of these hormones, or prevent them from working, are commonly used in people with breast cancer.
How successful is treatment?
The outlook is best in those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small, and has not spread. Surgical removal of a tumour in an early stage may then give a good chance of cure.
The routine mammography offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 means more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.
For more information visit breastcancernow.org or call its free helpline on 0808 800 6000
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