Early Stage Breast Cancer Far From a Death Sentence: Study

Early Stage Breast Cancer Not a Death Sentence

By Emily Willingham

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Only 3 percent of women diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer will die of their disease within 20 years, and more aggressive treatment does not improve that high survival rate, a new study suggests.

“The good news is that death is pretty rare,” said study first author Steven Narod, director of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at Women’s College Research Institute, in Toronto. “Clinically, the fact is that 3 percent in the big picture should be reassuring.”

The researchers did find that the death rates for both younger women and black patients diagnosed with this early stage cancer were higher.

The early stage breast cancer that they studied is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a small, localized cluster of cancer cells. About 20 to 25 percent of breast cancers that mammogram screening detects are DCIS. It is considered a stage 0 cancer that does not escape its location in the breast, the researchers said. Cancer that spreads into the rest of the breast or beyond is considered invasive.

“One clinical implication is to reiterate that DCIS is not an ’emergency,’ ” said Sarah Hawley, a cancer research specialist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “The study supports that the risk of dying is extremely low for these patients.”

Narod and his co-authors combed through a database of information on slightly more than 108,000 women who had been diagnosed with DCIS between 1988 and 2011. They compared these patients’ risk of dying from breast cancer with the risk for women in the general population. On average, the women were 54 years of age when they received their DCIS diagnosis, and the authors followed their outcomes for an average of 7.5 years. The team then estimated overall death rates at 10 and 20 years.

In all, 956 women in the study ultimately died of breast cancer. Of those, 517 never had invasive cancer in the breast after treatment seemed to cure their DCIS. That means that the cancerous breast cells from their DCIS had escaped at some point and survived in the lungs or bone, later developing into a deadly cancer, Narod explained.

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