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Dramatic improvement in breast cancer survival

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by Cancer Research UK | News

10 October 2005

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Almost two thirds of all women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are now likely to survive for at least 20 years – Cancer Research UK predicts today.

Women between 50 and 69, the age at which breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed, have an even better prognosis with 72 per cent likely to reach the 20 year mark.

And almost 80 per cent of breast cancer patients in that age range will survive at least 10 years according to a report* by Cancer Research UK epidemiologist Professor Michel Coleman.

Overall, women diagnosed in the early 1990s had around a 54 per cent chance of surviving for more than 10 years and a 44 per cent chance of surviving more than 20 years.

But 10 years on, the rates for today’s breast cancer patients are predicted to improve by between 17 and 20 per cent. Newly diagnosed women are predicted to have a 72 per cent chance of 10 year survival and a 64 per cent chance of 20 year survival.

Prof Coleman said: “Overall long-term survival for women with breast cancer has improved dramatically over the last 10 years and we are seeing even better survival statistics for women in their fifties and sixties.”

Prof Coleman predicted that survival for younger women would also improve though a little less dramatically than in older age groups. In the early 1990s women diagnosed before age 50 had a 60 per cent chance of surviving 10 years and a 50 per cent chance of surviving 20 years. Those survival rates are predicted to increase by between 13 and 14 per cent to 73 and 64 per cent respectively for women diagnosed during the first few years of this century.

Professor Tony Howell, Cancer Research UK consultant medical oncologist at the Christie Hospital, Manchester, said: “These results are highly encouraging for women who are worried about their cancer coming back. They will also encourage women to go for mammography since women with screen detected cancers fare particularly well.”

Dr Richard Sullivan, director of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, said: “This is tremendous news for breast cancer patients who have been recently diagnosed. This is the first time we have been able to predict such a huge improvement in long-term survival figures.

“Women diagnosed today have a much brighter future than those who faced breast cancer a generation ago. Detection rates have certainly increased as a result of the breast screening programme.

“And breast cancer treatments have improved enormously thanks to the success of cancer research – so much of which is funded through the generosity of the public.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Cancer Research UK’s All Women Together campaign is raising funds for continued research into breast cancer.

*The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used data from the National Cancer Registry at the Office for National Statistics on women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1971 and 2001. The National Cancer Registry collates data from nine regional cancer registries in England, and until recently for Wales.

This was linked to mortality data for these women up to the end of 2003 to predict long-term breast cancer survival among women who were diagnosed recently.

The data cover women diagnosed in England and Wales only.

For more information on cancer visit Cancer Research UK’s CancerHelp website specially designed for patients and their families.