A Glimmer of Hope for Advanced Breast Cancer

Stage IV breast cancer survival improved among women in recent years

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Ladies, you may have a better chance of fighting late-stage breast cancer today than ever before.

A new study found that stage IV breast cancer survival and life span improved significantly in the last two decades — particularly among women undergoing initial breast surgery.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the US. About 1 in 8 US women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point during her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Breast cancer is classified as stage IV when it has spread to other areas of the body, such as the brain, bones, lungs or liver. Although this stage of breast cancer is considered incurable, current medical advances and treatment can extend patients' lives for several years. About 5 to 10 percent of women with breast cancer have stage IV with an intact primary breast tumor, according to the ACS.

For this study, a team of researchers led by Mary C. Schroeder, PhD, of the University of Iowa, used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program to look at patterns of survival in US women with stage IV breast cancer. In particular, these researchers looked at the differences in survival between patients who underwent breast surgery of the primary tumor and those who did not.

A total of 21,372 women were included in this analysis. All were diagnosed between 1988 and 2011 and did not receive radiation therapy as part of their first course of treatment.

Among these women, the average survival time increased from 20 months (1988 to 1991) to 26 months (2007 to 2011). For women diagnosed before 2002, survival of at least 10 years was seen in 9.6 percent of those who underwent surgery and 2.9 percent of those who did not.

After increasing for more than two decades, overall female breast cancer rates began decreasing in 2000 — then dropped by about 7 percent from 2002 to 2003, the ACS reports. This decrease is thought to be due to the decline of hormone therapy use in women after menopause.

There are currently more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the US, according to the ACS.

This study was published Dec. 2 in the journal JAMA Surgery.

The University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center Population Research Core funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
November 30, 2015
Last Updated:
December 2, 2015