Breast cancer death rate falls 44% in nearly 30 years, new figures suggest

The death rate for women with breast cancer has plunged 44% in nearly 30 years, according to new figures.

Analysis by Cancer Research UK suggests that more than 130,000 UK breast cancer deaths have been avoided in the last three decades.

Deaths from the disease hit a record high in 1989, when around 15,600 women lost their lives to breast cancer.

But better tests and treatment, and increasing awareness of the disease, means the death rate for women has since fallen by 44%.

In 1989, there were 59.8 deaths per 100,000 women, dropping to 33.4 per 100,000 in 2017 – the most recent data available.

In 2016, there were 11,563 deaths from breast cancer in the UK.

Cancer Research UK said improvements in cancer screening, surgery, radiotherapy and new drugs have all had an impact, plus more cancers were being picked up earlier.

Around a quarter of breast cancer cases are diagnosed through the NHS breast screening programme.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “These numbers show that research is working, and we should celebrate the considerable progress that’s been made – but while lives are still being lost, our work is not done yet.

“Our ongoing research into the biology of breast cancer is vital. With this increased understanding, we’re developing new life-saving treatments; making them kinder, more effective, and more personalised to individual people.

“Diagnosing cancer early can save lives. If you get to know what’s normal for your body, you’re more likely to notice if something changes and can raise any concerns with your doctor.”

Early signs of breast cancer include a lump or thickening in the breast, but some people experience skin changes, breast pain and nipples changing position or leaking fluid.

Mother-of-two Deborah Huggons, 62, from Devon, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 after she felt a lump in her breast.

She had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and went on the drug tamoxifen to reduce the risk of her cancer coming back.

“I had no history of breast cancer in the family and my diagnosis had such an effect on me, my friends and family,” she said.

“I did not find chemotherapy easy, but I didn’t let it beat me. Early diagnosis is key.”

Screening all breast cancer patients ‘will save hundreds of lives’

Offering genetic screening to all women diagnosed with breast cancer could save hundreds of lives each year, new research suggests.

Currently, only people with recognised risk factors such as a family history of breast cancer are offered the check which could alert relatives to a genetic risk of the disease.

Women in the UK who contract ovarian cancer are offered a test to see if they are genetically likely to develop breast cancer, but the same does not happen for breast cancer patients.

Researchers questioned what would happen if all patients were tested for the Brca1, Brca2 and Palb2 gene mutations.

Looking at data from 11,800 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, US and Australia, they found that the tests could prevent 2,102 cases of breast cancer and potentially save 633 lives in the UK each year.

Taking account of testing, cancer treatment, preventative surgery and potential treatment for family members, the scientists believe this screening would cost £10,464 per year of good quality life (QALY).

The National Institute for health and Care Excellence recommends the NHS uses treatments with an upper cost limit of £30,000 per QALY.

Ranjit Manchanda, a professor of gynaecological oncology at the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine and Barts Cancer Institute, who led the study, told the BBC: “We should be testing more.

“This approach can ensure that more women can take preventative action to reduce their cancer risk or undertake regular screening.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “The new era of personalised medicine can bring life-changing benefits to patients which is why the NHS has committed to expanding genomic testing for patients with cancer as part of the Long Term Plan to transform care for millions of people across the country.”

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