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Why More Women Are Surviving Breast Cancer

Screening and New Treatments Have Both Helped Since 1975
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 26, 2005 -- More U.S. women are surviving breast cancer than a generation ago.

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 saving lives.

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 skin cancers.

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. Black women and women who are economically disadvantaged have been shown to be more likely to die of breast cancer than whites.

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