Advanced Breast Cancer Survival Improving

Advanced Breast Cancer Survival Improving Study finds better prognosis in women whose tumors have spread beyond the breast, nearby lymph nodes
WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- American women diagnosed with advanced, stage 4 breast cancer have a better chance of survival, and are surviving longer, compared to two decades ago, a new study finds.

Stage 4 breast cancer involves a tumor that has spread -- metastasized -- beyond the breast and surrounding lymph nodes to other organs in the body.

"Survival in stage 4 breast cancer has improved and is increasingly of prolonged duration, particularly for some women undergoing initial breast surgery," report researchers led by Mary Schroeder, an assistant professor of health services research at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Her team published their findings online Dec. 2 in the journal JAMA Surgery.

One expert was heartened by the results.

"It is not surprising that there has been an improvement in length of survival in patients with stage 4 breast cancer, as there have been many advances in chemotherapeutic and immunologic therapies," said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"We have also gotten better at targeting specific kinds of cancers with drugs that are directed to treating certain tumor types, and are moving away from a 'one-size-fits-all' treatment regimen," Bernik said.

In its study, Schroeder's group tracked outcomes for more than 21,000 patients who were diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer between 1988 and 2011. The women did not receive radiation therapy as part of their first course of treatment.

The investigators found that the patients' median survival rose from 20 months between 1988 and 1991, to 26 months between 2007 and 2011.

At the same time, rates of breast surgery declined during the study period. However, women who did undergo surgery were more likely to survive, the researchers found. Among patients diagnosed before 2002, nearly 10 percent of those who had surgery survived at least 10 years, compared with about 3 percent of those who did not have surgery.

Along with surgery, other factors associated with longer survival included the patient's marital status, her year of diagnosis, tumor size and the tumor's hormone receptor status (sensitivity to hormones can affect how aggressive a tumor might be).

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