Dec. 29, 2003 -- Women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer earlier than their European counterparts. A new study suggests that difference may help explain why American women are less likely to die from the disease.
Previous studies have shown that women in the U.S. have higher breast cancer survival rates than European women, but until now researchers have been unable to come up with a valid explanation for this difference.
The study, published in the Feb. 15, 2004, issue of the journal Cancer, suggests that the survival advantage is largely due to the fact that American women, especially elderly women, are diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier stage than in Europe, which allows for more effective treatment.
Breast Cancers Found Earlier in U.S.
For the study, researchers compared data from 4,478 women diagnosed with breast cancer in six European countries (Estonia, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and the U.K.) and 13,172 American women diagnosed with breast cancer from 1990 to 1992.
The results showed that early stage breast cancers were reported in 41% of the cases in the U.S. compared with only 29% of the European cases.
The difference was especially pronounced among elderly women. In the U.S., early stage breast cancers were found in 43% of women over age 65. But in Europe, only 25% of elderly women were diagnosed while their breast cancer was in the earliest stages. The odds of survival and successful treatment are much greater when breast cancer is caught early, before it spreads to other areas.
The tumors found among elderly European women also tended to be significantly larger than among their American counterparts.
Accordingly, researchers found that the five-year survival rates were significantly higher among American women than among European women. Eighty-nine percent of the American women studied survived at least five years after diagnosis compared with only 79% of the Europeans.
Researchers say those findings suggest that "resources should be invested to achieve earlier diagnosis of breast cancer in Europe, especially for elderly women."