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Women With Early-stage Breast Cancer Are Living Longer

Women are 66% less likely to die from early-stage breast cancer than they were 20 years ago, according to a new U.K. study that followed more than a half million women diagnosed with breast cancer in England. The research, published in the BMJ on June 13, found that women diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer in the 1990s had a 14% risk, on average, of dying within five years of diagnosis. Women diagnosed between 2010 and 2015 had a 5% risk of dying from breast cancer within the first five years of diagnosis, the study found. This means that more than 90% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer today will survive the disease for five years or more, ABC News reported. “The prognosis for patients with breast cancer has improved, and that improvement is dramatic,” said study senior author David Dodwell, a breast oncologist from University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Population Health, in England, in the news story. “Our general feeling that things are getting better has been confirmed and, not only that, we can probably be more optimistic than we had dared to hope.”

More Cancer Survivors Struggle With Disability

As cancer screenings and treatments continue to improve, more cancer survivors are living well beyond their diagnosis, but many of them face functional limitations, according to research recently published in JAMA Oncology. The findings, reported on HealthDay June 9, show that the number of cancer survivors who struggle with functional limitations doubled between 1999 and 2018. “The fact that we are saving more lives from cancer is worth celebrating, but it also warrants a shift toward understanding and improving the quality of life for those who survive,” said study co-author S.M. Qasim Hussaini, a chief medical oncology fellow and a health systems researcher at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore. “Overall, our study calls for urgent action to address the burden of cancer and its treatment on physical, psychosocial and cognitive function,” Hussaini said in a Johns Hopkins news release. Using data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, the study of more than 51,000 survivors was weighted to represent a larger population of 178.8 million people. About 3.6 million survivors had a functional limitation or disability in 1999, but that increased to 8.2 million in 2018. The researchers reviewed responses from 1999 to 2018, looking at 12 functional limitations, including inability to stand for more than an hour, difficulty sitting for more than two hours and difficulty participating in social activities without assistance. About 70% of survivors reported at least one type of functional limitation, which is twice as much as the general population, the article noted.

Why Are Cancer Rates Climbing Among Young People?

In the United States, almost 60% of people diagnosed with cancer are 65 or older. But cancer rates have been climbing among those under 50. The rate of these early-onset cancers rose by almost 18% between 2000 and 2019, even as cancer declined slightly in older adults, according to data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Among Americans between 15 and 39 years old, an age group cancer researchers refer to as adolescents and young adults (AYAs), the surge topped 20%, according to an article published June 15 on The Hill. While cancer at any age can be devastating, AYAs with cancer face a lifetime of changes that can make a diagnosis even more challenging. “They are at a transitional stage in life,” said Chun Chao, a cancer epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, in the article. “If you think about it, this is the age when people are trying to establish their independence. Some people are finishing up their education. People are trying to get their first job, just start to establish their career. And people are starting new families and starting to have kids. So at this particular age, having a cancer diagnosis can be a huge disruption to these goals.” Researchers continue to look for reasons behind the uptick in early-onset cancers but speculate that the increase could be tied to a slew of environmental and lifestyle factors that have changed since the mid-20th century. Potential contributors include obesity, sugar-sweetened beverages, red and processed meat, sedentary lifestyles, and increases in metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes, the article noted.