Why More Women Are Surviving Breast Cancer
Screening and New Treatments Have Both Helped Since 1975
Oct. 26, 2005 -- More U.S. women are surviving breast cancer than a
Chalk it up to advances in screening and treatments since 1975, researchers
report in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Which has been the bigger help -- screening or new treatments? Scientists
from seven different organizations tackled that question for the report.
They came up with different answers. Some showed that screening had been
more important. Others sided with treatment.
Still, there was no mistaking the powerful impact those advances have had on
Screening, Treatment Both Helped
Screening can flag breast cancer at an earlier, more survivable stage. But
treatment is needed, too.
"While we didn't agree with each other as to the percentages of benefit,
all seven groups concluded that the decline in the rate of death from breast
cancer is a combination of screening and therapy, and not restricted to one or
the other," says researcher Donald Berry, PhD, in a news release.
Berry works at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
More Breast Cancer Survivors
For U.S. women, breast cancer is the No. 2 cause of cancer death. Lung
cancer is women's leading cause of cancer death.
Breast cancer is also women's most common cancer, except for nonmelanoma
America's breast cancer death rate has been dropping, even as more women
have been diagnosed. In short, more women have, and survive, breast cancer than
in the past.
Slightly more than 2 million living U.S. women have been treated for breast
cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Breast Cancer Then and Now
Berry's study paints a picture of breast cancer over the years. It shows
many advances, though breast cancer hasn't been defeated.
Consider these numbers from Berry's study:
- Breast cancer killed 48 out of 100,000 women aged 30-79 in 1975.
- Breast cancer killed 38 out of 100,000 women aged 30-79 in 2000.
- Women's breast cancer death rate dropped 24% from 1990 to 2000.
The study didn't look at breast cancer in men. It also didn't break down the
death rate for different ethnic groups.
Advances in Treatment
Many treatments available to today's breast cancer patients weren't around
Chemotherapy was virtually unheard of in 1975. Now, it's commonplace.
"The percentage of women who received chemotherapy increased from
essentially 0% in 1975 to about 80% in 2000," write the researchers.
Tamoxifen is another example. It's a drug that blocks the hormone estrogen
from estrogen-sensitive breast tumors. It's typically taken for five years
after other treatments (such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation).
"The use of tamoxifen increased from essentially 0% in 1975 to about 50%
in 2000," write the researchers. They add that tamoxifen has mainly been
used in patients with estrogen-sensitive tumors.
Other hormone-related drugs have also been developed, such as the new
aromatase inhibitors, which cut estrogen production.