Monday, June 20, 2011

The Breast Cancer News Update: June 20

This weekend's breast cancer news was about the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Cancer death rates are falling

On Friday, US News & World Report and the Los Angeles Times reported on the American Cancer Society release of 2011 statistics, facts and figures. Overall, death rates from any type of cancer fell about 22% for men and 14% for women from 1997 to 2007. Since 2000, death rates have fallen about 1.9% for men and 1.5% a year for women. For women, the decline is attributed to lower rates of death from breast and colorectal cancers due to earlier detection and better treatment.

People who are less educated are more likely to die from cancer

In another piece, the Los Angeles Times looked further into the American Cancer Society findings that people with less education were more likely to die from cancer. Cancer death rates are "almost three times higher" for those who didn't finish high school than for college graduates." The article explored a University of Wisconsin study which found that women who did not finish high school were almost 40% more likely to die of invasive breast cancer than college grads. The disparity remained even after adjusting for lifestyle factors and income.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for older breast cancer patients

A story in The Telegraph (UK) examined a University of Colorado study printed in Breast Cancer Research which looked at 60,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1992 and 2000 at age 66 or older. They were followed for a median of about 9 years. About half were still alive at the end of the study. Those who died lived on average to age 83. Of those who died, only about a third of them died from breast cancer. The "biggest" cause of death was heart disease. According to Jennifer Patnaik, one of the researchers, "breast cancer is not necessarily a death sentence and patients need to take care of their health to reduce their risk of dying from heart disease and other age-related diseases."

This story raised questions. What were the stages at diagnosis? What treatments were given? Could the heart disease have been related to treatment? Looking at the full text of the study provides further insight.

On page 13, we learn that heart disease was the primary cause of death for women diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. Women with stage I or II cancer were more likely to die from causes other than breast cancer. Also, for all stages of breast cancer, the likelihood of dying of causes other than breast cancer increased as women aged.

Interestingly, on page 15, only 25.5% of the women who died of cardiac disease during the study were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease at the time of breast cancer diagnosis. The authors explain that this may be due to cardiac disease developing during the long study follow-up or from cardiac disease being under diagnosed in the Medicare population. They also note that chemotherapy "has been shown to be associated with cardiac toxicity in breast cancer patients, particularly in older patients."

At, we don't just read media coverage of breast cancer news. We look at the studies behind the stories. Our website provides access to the latest news and research for all of your breast cancer treatment options.

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