Women's health * 50+ health

Late diagnosis of breast cancer 'linked to 1,000 deaths a year'

Late diagnosis of breast cancer  linked to 1,000 deaths a year England lags behind Scandinavia on survival rates

If England's health services could spot breast cancer cases as quickly as those in Sweden and Norway then nearly 1,000 deaths a year could be prevented, according to a new study.

Leader of the study, Professor Henrik Møller of King's College London, said that "this study has important implications for women in this country. We could prevent nearly a thousand deaths from breast cancer each year by getting the disease diagnosed earlier, particularly in older women."

To see how different countries compare, the study looked at the length of time that women survived after being diagnosed with breast cancer. In general the shorter the survival time, the later the diagnosis is likely to have been.

But, like most other cancers, catching breast cancer early is a major factor in a woman's chances of surviving the disease.

The results showed that if England matched Norway and Sweden’s survival rates for breast cancer (the best in Europe), 957 deaths could be prevented annually in women whose cancer is diagnosed so late that they usually die within two years of diagnosis.

In England, over 38,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year and, overall, eight out of ten women survive the disease beyond five years. Breast cancer survival has been improving and death rates have fallen in recent decades.

But the study estimates that each year there are 1,183 deaths within five years of diagnosis that could have been avoided by earlier diagnosis. Crucially, 81 per cent of these deaths occur within two years of diagnosis and mainly in older women over 80. This amounts to 957 deaths that should not have happened.

These results are presented at the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) conference on June 17th 2010. Head of the NCIN, Chris Carrigan, commented "We know that many cancers are being diagnosed too late in this country, and this study reveals the scale of the challenge for breast cancer in particular."

"More women are surviving breast cancer than ever before and we know that significant improvements in breast cancer treatment are being made. But we still have work to do to emphasise the benefits of early detection" he continued.

This article was published on Thu 17 June 2010

Image © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

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