Five-Year Mortality Rate For Early-Stage Breast Cancer Has Plummeted Since 1993, Study Finds

While generally very treatable, early-stage breast cancer does run the risk of returning and leading to death, but a new study finds that’s substantially less likely than it was just a few decades ago.

The BMJ recently published findings of a study involving more than half a million early-stage breast cancer patients in the United Kingdom, who registered their health information with the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service between 1993 and 2015. The research, funded by the charity Cancer Research UK, showed that for women diagnosed between 1993 and 1999, there was a 14.4% risk of breast cancer mortality within the following five years. However, nearly two decades later between 2010 and 2015, that figure had fallen to 4.9%. That means the five-year death rate went from roughly 1 in 7 patients to roughly 1 in 20.

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Dr. David Dodwell, senior author and oncologist from the University of Oxford’s Department of Population Health, says, “The prognosis for patients with breast cancer has improved, And that improvement is dramatic. 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.”

Overall, 512,447 women opted to share their health data for the long-running study, which began In 1993 and had follow-up through December 2020. They all had early-stage invasive breast cancer involving only the breast and possibly axillary nodes. The researchers broke these women into groups: those diagnosed between 1993 and 1999, between 2000 and 2004, between 2005 and 2009, and between 2010 and 2015. For all the groups, the risk of breast cancer mortality was the highest within the first five years and then fell after that.

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With the overall five-year risk falling so substantially, the team says the vast majority of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer can now expect to be long-term survivors, though some are still higher risk.

The data also helps health care providers understand the different risks for different patients.

Carolyn Taylor, lead author and professor at Oxford, explains, “Our study can be used to estimate risk for individual women in the clinic today. It gives doctors the data they need to make predictions, or prognoses, for women diagnosed with early breast cancer. These prognoses can help women understand their situation and plan their futures.”

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To read the entire study, click here.

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