The five-year survival rate for women under age 50 initially diagnosed with advanced breast cancer doubled between 1992 to 1994 and 2005 to 2012, according to a study published Thursday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
For the study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance, sought to project metastatic breast cancer prevalence among U.S. women. To do so, they used U.S. breast cancer mortality and survival rates from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registries.
To calculate the estimate, the researchers combined the number of women who were initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer with those whose cancer advanced after an initial diagnosis at an earlier stage.
According to the researchers, the study provides the first estimate of the number of women living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States.
Overall, the researchers projected that, as of Jan. 1, more than 150,000 women in the United States were living with metastatic breast cancer.
They found the five-year survival rate and median survival time for women who were initially diagnosed with advanced breast cancer improved, especially among women ages 15 to 49.
According to the study, the five-year survival rate among women ages 15 to 49 doubled from 18 percent for women diagnosed between 1992 and 1994 to 36 percent for women diagnosed between 2005 and 2012.
In addition, the study showed the median survival time for women ages 15 to 49 increased from 22.3 months for initial diagnoses between 1992 and 1994 to 38.7 for initial diagnoses between 2005 and 2012. For women diagnosed with the advanced disease at ages 50 to 64, the median relative survival time increased from 19.1 months to 29.7 months during the same periods.
According to the Washington Post's "To Your Health," the researchers explained that in the past, metastatic breast cancer was considered a death sentence, and to this day remains largely incurable. But in recent years, new treatments have been developed that target the triggers of the disease. They said such innovations have improved palliative care have helped women "live for years with reasonable quality of life, albeit undergoing constant treatment to keep their disease under control."
Study lead author Angela Mariotto of the National Cancer Institute said the findings show women are living longer with metastatic breast cancer—in part because of better treatment options—but to maintain these longer survival times, there will need to be further research and services provided to women (McGinley, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 5/18; Mariotto et al., Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 5/18).
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Patient volumes are increasing. At the same time, the number of services used per patient is growing. Better outcomes mean that more patients require follow-up care over longer periods of time. This growing demand coincides with increased competition—providers unable to care for patients in a timely manner will lose their volumes to competitors.
Since most cancer centers can't afford more full-time employees or clinical space as a response to long wait times, they need to focus on redesigning the clinic schedule and improving patient throughput instead.