Sixty years ago, a woman had just a 25 percent chance of living 10 years if she got a breast cancer diagnosis. Now the survival rate is more than 75 percent, U.S. doctors reported on Wednesday.
The study of women treated at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center demonstrates how improvements in treatment and screening have transformed the disease from a virtual death sentence, experts said.
Dr. Aman Buzdar will present the study at a meeting in Washington of breast cancer specialists sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology later this week.
His team pulled the records of thousands of women treated at the center since 1944.
For all breast cancer patients, 10-year survival was 25 percent in the 1944-1955 period. By 1995 to 2004, that had risen to 76.5 percent, he said.
For patients who had small tumors that had not spread, and who could be treated with surgery and radiation, the outlook is even better. In the 1944-1955 period, just 55 percent of those patients lived 10 years or longer. By 2004, that had risen to more than 86 percent.
Tumors that have spread in the breast can be the most challenging to treat and in the 1944-1955 period, just 16 percent of these patients were alive 10 years later. Even in the 1985-1994 period, just 57 percent of patients were alive 10 years later.
But by 2004, the survival rate was more than 74 percent. This is a dramatic shift because of the combined modality approach, Buzdar said. Now women with cancer that has spread in the breast are treated with chemotherapy before surgery, to make the tumor a little easier to take out and to catch any stray tumor cells.
The worst prognosis is for stage 4 disease, when tumor cells have spread throughout the body. Even there, advances in chemotherapy have saved lives. In 1944, Buzdar said, just 3 percent of those patients lived 10 years. Now 22 percent of them do.
In an unrelated report, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported on Wednesday that U.S. men with prostate cancer were 45 percent less likely to die from the disease in 2006 than they were in 1999.
Researchers at the agency found death rates from prostate cancer fell to 13 deaths per 100,000 men from 23.5 deaths.
Black men were much more likely than whites to die from prostate cancer, with 69 black men per 100,000 dying from prostate cancer in 1999 compared with 50.5 per 100,000 white men.
In 2006, there were 29 black deaths per 100,000 compared with 22 deaths per 100,000 whites.