Older Women are not Benefiting from Cancer Care Advances

November 12, 2012

Older Women are not Benefiting from Cancer Care Advances

New research in the U.S. has identified that older women are not realizing the benefits available by advances in cancer treatment over the last 30 years. The research found that older women are more likely to die of breast cancer than young women.

The study which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and was carried out by researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. They analyzed data relating to breast cancer from 1980 until 2007. The American Cancer Society predicts that almost a quarter of a million American women (230,000) will be diagnosed as having breast cancer in 2011. Approximately 17%, that’s about 40,000 of the women will be 75 and older. This area is the fastest rising sector in the field of breast cancer in the United States.

The researchers found that throughout the 1980’s death rates for breast cancer remained constant for women in the age group 20 to 64. However the rate climbed for women who were 65 and older.

From 1990 until 2007 a decrease in deaths caused by breast cancer was noted. In particular women aged between 20 and 49 had the largest decrease, about 2.4% per year. The researchers believe that this was caused by extra availability of mammography equipment and two treatments, adjuvant chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

During this time the smallest decrease in deaths that was noted was for the over 75 year olds. The figure only dropped by 1.1% per year.

The lead author Dr. Benjamin Smith, an assistant professor in the radiation oncology department, says, “Given the fact that breast cancer is growing rapidly, we really need to focus research exclusively on developing optimal treatments for older women with breast cancer, evaluating how we can predict which older women can tolerate treatments, and develop new treatments that work better”.

The study also made some other findings, it found that in 2006 black women had a 38% higher death rate that white women with breast cancer. It also noted that there was a change in breast cancer mortality rates over periods of time. In 1995 to 1997 women aged 75 and older had a breast cancer death rate of 17.3%, however in 1980 to 1984 they had the lowest death rate of 24%. At that time younger women had a risk of 29% to 31%. But by 1995 to 1997 younger women’s death rate had dropped to 15.4% to 16.6%.

Smith sums up, “We found that the oldest women, regardless of their race, and blacks, regardless of their age, are not benefiting as much from improvements in breast cancer treatments”.

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