Women's health

Number of women dying from breast cancer at all time low

Number of women dying from breast cancer at all time low Deaths decining despite increasing numbers being diagnosed

The number of women dying from breast cancer has fallen to less than 12,000 for the first time since national statistics were recorded almost 40 years ago, Cancer Research UK revealed yesterday.

New figures published by the charity revealed that 11,990 women in the UK died from breast cancer in 2007, compared with12,472 deaths in 1971 - the first year statistics were collected. Since then the the number of deaths from the disease have steadily risen, peaking at 15, 625 in 1989.

However, since then breast cancer death rates have fallen by a third . The welcome decline in deaths is linked to the widespread introduction of treatments available to women in addition to surgery. These include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatments such as Tamoxifen and Anastrozole – which help to prevent the disease from coming back. The introduction of the NHS breast screening programme in 1988 has also played an important role.

Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK said:

"It's incredibly encouraging to see fewer women dying from breast cancer now than at any time in the last 40 years, despite breast cancer being diagnosed more often. Research has played a crucial role in this progress leading to improved treatments and better management for women with the disease.

The introduction of the NHS breast screening programme has also contributed as women are more likely to survive the earlier cancer is diagnosed. We hope these new figures will encourage women over the age of 47 to attend screening and to know that even if a tumour is found, their chances of beating it are better than ever."

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK, with 45,500 women being diagnosed with the disease every year. This is the equivalent of 125 women each day. It is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women after lung cancer.

The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman ages – eight in 10 cases are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over. Obesity and alcohol consumption, along with reproductive factors such as more women having fewer children later in life – are thought to be fuelling rates of the disease which have increased by more than 50 per cent over the last 25 years. HRT is also linked to breast cancer risk, although the number of women taking it has fallen, leading to a reduction in breast cancer incidence among women in their 50s.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said:

"Although we are delighted that fewer women are dying from breast cancer, we will not become complacent. Every one of those 11,990 women who died in 2007 was someone's mother, sister, daughter, friend or colleague and Cancer Research UK – as the UK's largest funder of breast cancer research – is absolutely committed to finding new ways to help more women survive the disease."

More information

For more information on breast cancer:

Cancer Research UK www.cancerresearchuk.org

This article was published on Thu 23 April 2009

Image © Forgiss - Fotolia.com

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