Experts seem to finally have good news for women in remission who suffered from breast cancer. Many women worry about relapsing during remission. But now experts say that recurrence rates have decreased.

Reuters reports on a decrease in breast cancer rates. Every person who faces breast cancer fears the possibility of it returning. Can they be sure that the chances of it returning have come down?

New research shows that breast cancer recurrence rates have dropped since the 1980s. How did these rates go down? What are physicians and/or patients doing right to further prevention and recurrence?

Many experts say that breast cancer recurrence rates have dropped due to improved treatments and increased screenings. Dr. Gelmon from BC Cancer Agency led the study. She said, “The analysis of data on Canadian breast cancer patients offers reassurance that breast cancer survival is improving and also provides updated data to researchers. It gives some contemporary numbers to people designing trials testing adjuvant treatments.”

What other research has been done to support or combat this analysis?

Reuters says there was an earlier study (published in the 1990s) based on data from 1978 to 1988. It found that women whose breast cancers fed off the hormone estrogen (so-called estrogen-receptor positive breast cancers) had a persistent risk of the cancer recurring over time. The study found that for breast cancers not fueled by estrogen, recurrence risk was high for five years after successful treatment; however, it then dropped below the risk of those with estrogen-receptor positive cancers.

What is the difference between this new study and the old one?

“In the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Gelmon's team compared data on 7,178 women treated for early to moderately-advanced breast cancer during two different periods: 1986 to 1992, and 2004 to 2008. The researchers matched the cancer characteristics of each patient from the first period to a patient from the second period, including estrogen-receptor status as well as the presence of another protein on cancer cells, HER2,” according to Reuters.

What is the significance of HER2? The HER2 molecule helps to push cancer-cell growth. Tumors with HER2 are generally more aggressive than HER2-negative ones.

For the new study, the overall risk of breast cancer recurrence for women in the later group was about 50 percent lower than for women in the earlier group, for each year after being cancer-free, probably because of new positive changes in treating breast cancer.

Similar to the 1990s study, the new analysis found an increased risk of recurrence within the first five years among women with cancers that were not pushed by estrogen. Among women treated in the 2000s, that early heightened risk was actually less dramatic.

Reuters explains, “The risk of recurrence after one year was about 11 percent among women from the earlier period with cancers not driven by estrogen, compared to about a 6 percent risk among women with the same type of cancer in the later period. The researchers also found that HER2-positive cancers saw some of the greatest reductions in recurrence risk. The risk of recurrence in the second year of being cancer-free among women whose tumors were HER2-positive and ER-negative fell from about 23 percent in the earlier period to about 9 percent in the most recent period.”

Researchers say the new study is not actually able to show why recurrence rates improved, but the experts speculate that it is probably a result of screening leading to early detection and more comprehensive and appropriate treatments that target specific types of cancer.


Gerry Oginski
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