New UK study finds women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are living longer

(LONDON) — Women diagnosed with breast cancer in England are living longer than they would have 20 years ago, new research by Cancer Research UK and the University of Oxford has found.

The research found that the proportion of women surviving early-stage breast cancer has improved “substantially” since the 1990s.

In the 90s, women diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer had a 14% risk, on average, of dying within five years of diagnosis. But women diagnosed with the same today have a “less than 3%” risk of dying from breast cancer within the first five years of diagnosis, the study found.

This means that over 90% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer today will survive the disease for five years or more, according to the study.

“Our study is good news for the overwhelming majority of women diagnosed with early breast cancer today because their prognosis has improved so much,” said Carolyn Taylor, lead author of the study and Professor of Oncology at Oxford Population Health. “In the future, further research may be able to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer even more.”

The study examined routine data from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service of 512,447 women in England diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer between Jan. 1993 to Dec. 2015. They found that the prognosis for women has “improved substantially” and that “most [women] can expect to become long term cancer survivors,” the study said.

The study also focused on women with early-stage breast cancer who were “initially treated with surgery,” but excluded those who were diagnosed with multiple cancers or those whose cancer had already spread.

“The prognosis for patients with breast cancer has improved, and that improvement is dramatic,” said Dr. David Dodwell from Oxford University’s Department of Population Health. “Our general feeling that things are getting better has been confirmed and, not only that, we can probably be more optimistic than we had dared to hope.”

Experts say some of the gains may boil down to better disease tracking and earlier diagnosis. Evidence, however, also shows that early detection, increased breast cancer screening as well as advancements in treatments surgery and radiotherapy are all factors that accounted for the increased survival rates.

Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, described the findings as “heart-warming.”

The study did find, however, that for a few women, the risk of death remained “appreciable.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the first or second leading cause of female cancer deaths in 95% of countries worldwide. There are an estimated 2.3 million breast cancer cases annually, making it the most common cancer among adults.

“Countries with weaker health systems are least able to manage the increasing burden of breast cancer,” said WHO Chief Tedros Ghebreyesus. “It places a tremendous strain on individuals, families, communities, health systems and economies so it must be a priority for ministries of health and governments everywhere.”

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