Advanced Breast Cancer Survival Rates Improve
While stage 4 breast cancer is considered incurable, modern advances in medical technology have led to increased life spans for many patients. According to a new study, these increases have improved steadily over the past two decades, thanks in part to healthcare that treats the disease like a chronic condition.
What is Stage 4 Breast Cancer?
Unlike less-advanced forms of the disease, stage 4 breast cancer means malignant cells have spread to distant areas of the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs or brain. In most cases, patients succumb to stage 4 breast cancer within months. That said, the survival duration is growing, thanks to modern chemotherapeutic, surgical and immunologic therapies that are more tailored to the individual's needs.
According to researchers from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, stage 4 breast cancer patients' median survival rate has grown from 20 to 26 months over the past two decades. While this may not sound like a substantial increase, experts agree it's a clear indication that modern treatments are advancing in the right direction.
Published in the December 2 issue of the journal JAMA Surgery, the study tracked the outcomes of more than 20,000 stage 4 breast cancer patients who received their diagnoses between 1988 and 2011. During this period, overall rates of breast surgery declined; however, the researchers determined that women who underwent some form of surgery were more likely to survive. In fact, among patients diagnosed prior to 2002, only 3 percent of patients who did not have surgery survived longer than 10 years, compared to 10 percent who did have surgery.
Other Reasons for Improvement
While surgery stood out in the recent study as a major reason for increased survival rates, other factors also appeared to play a role. These included tumor size, the tumor's hormone receptor status and even the patient's marital status.
Still, surgery appeared to play the biggest role, even holding benefits for women suffering from overt metastatic disease. With that said, experts are quick to point out that surgery is not always right for all patients or particular subsets.
As a broad analysis, the study appears to reinforce the suggestion that surgery is beneficial in stage 4 disease. Before opting for surgery, however, patients should speak to their doctors to learn about all available options for their particular cases.