Breast Cancer Death Rate Drops

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

OCTOBER 10, 2017

Let's start this short week with some good news. A new report indicates that the death rate from breast cancer has dropped almost 40% between 1989 and 2015. As welcome as this is, it is not good enough--and won't be until breast cancer and all other cancers can be prevented. I am very aware that is not going to happen in our lifetimes, so we will be grateful for progress.

When I began working in Cancer World, there was exactly one treatment available (Adria) for metastatic breast cancer. When it stopped working, there was nothing else to offer. There is now a very long list, including growing numbers of targeted therapies. Some women are able to string together a series of drugs that enable them to live much longer lives. Equally good is the fact that advances in adjuvant care have kept many women from ever having to contend with recurrent/metastatic breast cancer.

From The Washington Post:

Breast-cancer death rate drops almost 40 percent, saving 322,000 lives, study says

By Laurie McGinley

Breast cancer death rates declined almost 40 percent between 1989 and 2015, averting 322,600 deaths, the American Cancer Society reported Tuesday.

Breast cancer death rates increased by 0.4 percent per year from 1975 to 1989, according to the study. After that, mortality rates decreased rapidly, for a 39 percent drop overall through 2015.  The report, the latest to document a long-term reduction in breast-cancer mortality, attributed the declines to both improvements in treatments and to early detection by mammography.

Deanna Attai, a breast cancer surgeon at the University of California at Los Angeles who was not involved in the study, said the advances in treatment included much better chemotherapy regimens — developed in the 1980s and refined ever since — that are administered post-surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. Other improvements have included tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen agent that was approved in the late 1970s; Herceptin, a drug used to treat tumors with a higher-than-normal level of a protein called HER2 and drugs called aromatase inhibitors.

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