Great news for breast cancer patients

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In encouraging new study results researchers say that modern treatments have significantly boosted the 15-year survival rate for breast cancer, and even better news is that they have also found that drug and hormonal therapies effectively cure many women, rather than simply delaying the recurrence of disease.

They also say that in some cases, the appropriate use of a combination of treatments can halve the 15-year risk of death.

The Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group looked at 145,000 cases, and found that breast cancer death rates have been falling rapidly in the UK and other countries since the 1990s, and great progress is being made in treating breast cancer effectively.

According to Professor John Toy of Cancer Research UK, surgery, alone or in combination with radiotherapy, can be used to remove all apparent traces of breast cancer if the disease is picked up at an early stage, but undetected cancer cell deposits may sometimes remain, and can trigger a recurrence of disease.

Drug and hormonal therapy - such as tamoxifen - are often used to try to prevent this recurrence by destroying these hidden deposits.

Professor Toy says the study is the largest follow-up ever done in women with early breast cancer.

Debate about whether women should be subjected to these extra treatments, which often have very unpleasant side effects, is countered by evidence that they help to boost survival rates at five years.

This latest study examined data on 145,000 breast cancer patients to determine their impact in the longer term, and the researchers found that appropriate use of the treatments in combination can approximately halve the 15-year risk of death from breast cancer for a middle-aged woman with hormone-sensitive disease.

Individually each treatment also has a significant impact, the use of chemotherapy based on the anthracycline class of drugs, for example, can cut the 15-year risk of death for a middle aged woman with breast cancer by a third.

Professor Sarah Darby, of the University of Oxford, worked on the study and she says newer treatments for breast cancer were now gaining favour.

Antonia Bunnin, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, says it is reassuring to see evidence that established treatments are helping more and more women with early breast cancer live longer and it is vital that there is greater investment in research.

Liz Carroll, of Breast Cancer Care said the research underlined the importance of using anthracyclines-based chemotherapy rather than less effective alternatives.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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