Women diagnosed with breast cancer today are two-thirds more likely to survive than they were 20 years ago, and many more will become ‘long-term survivors’, new research suggests.
In the most extensive study of its kind, scientists from the University of Oxford found that the risk of dying within five years of diagnosis was 4.9% for women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2010 and 2015, compared to 14.4% for women diagnosed in the 1990s.
For some women today, the risk of death within five years is as low as 0.2%.
The findings illustrate the substantial improvement in prognosis for women with early invasive breast cancer that have been made since the 1990s and will help clinicians better estimate the prognosis for patients diagnosed with breast cancer today.
The study, which was partly funded by Cancer Research UK, is published in The BMJ.
More than two million patients worldwide receive a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer each year, and estimates of prognosis help inform treatment decisions. Previous studies have shown that the risk of death after being diagnosed with early invasive breast cancer has decreased over the past few decades, but this is the first analysis to show how much that risk has fallen. The researchers also looked at whether the fall is representative for all patients independent of variables such as age and tumour size or grade.
Using data from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, the researchers analysed routinely collected information from 512,447 women diagnosed with early breast cancer in England between January 1993 and December 2015. The women were followed until December 2020.
All the women involved in the study had early-stage breast cancer and were initially treated with only surgery. Women who had treatment before surgery, later stage breast cancer where the cancer had spread or who had more than one cancer were excluded.
The results showed that on average, women diagnosed with early breast cancer are 66% less likely to die from the disease than they were 20 years ago. The improvements in prognosis applied to nearly all groups of women, and for most women diagnosed with breast cancer today, the 5-year risk of breast cancer death is likely to be less than 3%.
Professor Carolyn Taylor from Oxford University and lead author of the study, said: ‘Our study is good news for the overwhelming majority of women diagnosed with early breast cancer today because their prognosis has improved so much.’
She added: ‘Our study can also be used to estimate risk for individual women in the clinic. It shows that prognosis after a diagnosis of early breast cancer varies widely. Patients and clinicians can use our results to estimate prognosis moving forward. In the future, further research may be able to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer even more.’