Other Cancers After Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer survivors may have higher risks for second cancers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Even after a cancer is successfully treated, there's still a risk that another cancer may show up at some point down the line. A recent Spanish study looked at the risk of second cancers in breast cancer survivors.

Women who were diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50 were found to have a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer

Breast cancer survivors over the age of 50 were more prone to have endometrial (lining of uterus) as a second cancer.

While the statistics are worrisome, when the figures are teased out, the risks look different.

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Esther Molina-Montes, PhD, of the Andalusian School of Public Health in Granada, Spain, conducted a study of 5,897 women first diagnosed with breast cancer. The women were followed from 1985 to 2007.

Researchers were looking at the risks of second cancers in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Here’s what they learned:

  • Compared to the general population, breast cancer survivors had a 39 percent higher risk of developing second cancers.
  • Women under the age of 50 when they were diagnosed with breast cancer had a three-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer compared to women who had never had cancer.
  • Women over the age of 50 when diagnosed with breast cancer had a nearly five-fold increase risk of ovarian cancer.

“This is a very good study using population based data which showed an increase in ovarian cancer in young women and increase in endometrial cancer in older women.  However, the researchers did not have individual patient data with information on patient’s genetic risk or treatment methods,” Cary Kaufman, MD, FACS, a breast surgeon and specialist at Bellingham Regional Breast Center in Washington state, told dailyRx News.

After examining the data closely, Dr. Kaufman explained, “Although statistically significant, the increase in ovarian cancer involved only 0.4 percent of young women (<50 years old) who had prior breast cancer.  The increase in endometrial cancer involved only 1 percent of older women (>50 years old) who had prior breast cancer,” said Dr. Kaufman, who was not involved in the study.

“The underlying message is that women with breast cancer have a very low risk of developing any second cancer, and their focus should be on the adequate treatment of their primary breast cancer.” Dr. Kaufman said.

“These increased risks may be related to adjuvant treatment side effects or to predisposing genetic and environmental factors,” the authors concluded. “More research should focus on isolating the causes that may predispose a breast cancer survivor to develop a second cancer.”

This study was published in the May issue of Gynecologic Oncology

The research was supported by the Spanish Regional Government of Andalucia: Consejería de Economía, Innovación y Ciencia and Consejería de Salud y Bienestar Social de la Junta de Andalucía. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
May 16, 2013
Last Updated:
September 17, 2013