A new study shows that the number of women living with advanced breast cancer in the USA is growing and BCAC believes the situation is likely to be the same in New Zealand.

The research, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, also looked at survival rates for women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), which is breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) researchers say that median and five-year relative survival rate for women initially diagnosed with MBC is improving, especially among younger women.

They estimated the number of women living with MBC because accurate records are not kept, but they examined NCI data and concluded that approximately 150,000 women in the US have MBC and that 75 per cent of them were initially diagnosed with an earlier stage of breast cancer.

The institute’s chief of data analytics, Dr Angela Mariotto, says the results of the study highlight the need for more services for women with MBC.

“This group of patients with MBC is increasing in size because, over time, these women are living longer with MBC. Longer survival with MBC means increased needs for services and research. Our study helps to document this need," she says.

BCAC chairperson, Libby Burgess, agrees and says New Zealanders with MBC face similar challenges.

“BCAC has long highlighted the need for a greater research focus on MBC and it’s certainly true that as women live longer with this disease, the need increases for specific services, health and otherwise, to ensure they have a good quality of life,” she says.

The study also shows that survival of women initially diagnosed with MBC has been increasing, especially among women diagnosed at younger ages.

The researchers estimated that between 1992-1994 and 2005-2012, five-year relative survival among women initially diagnosed with MBC at ages 15-49 years doubled from 18 percent to 36 percent.

Median relative survival time between 1992-1994 and 2005-2012 increased from 22.3 months to 38.7 months for women diagnosed between ages 15-49, and from 19.1 months to 29.7 months for women diagnosed between ages 50-64.

The researchers also reported that a small but meaningful number of women live many years after an initial diagnosis of MBC. More than 11 percent of women diagnosed between 2000-2004 under the age of 64 survived 10 years or more.

Based on their calculations, the researchers estimated that the number of women living with MBC increased by 4 percent from 1990 to 2000 and by 17 percent from 2000 to 2010, and they project that the number will increase by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020.

Although the largest group of women with MBC consists of women who have been living with metastatic disease for two years or less (40 percent), one-third (34 percent) of women with MBC have lived for five years or more with the disease.

The researchers say that by including women with recurrence, this study provides a more accurate number of women in the U.S. currently living with MBC. This estimation can help with health care planning and the ultimate goal of better serving these women.

"This study emphasises the importance of collecting data on recurrence at the individual level in order to foster more research into the prevention of recurrence and the specific needs of this growing population," Dr Mariotto says.

BCAC agrees and notes that none of the New Zealand cancer registries keep details about MBC.

12 June 2017

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