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Advances in Breast Cancer Care May Not Be Reaching Older Women

TUESDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- New research finds older U.S. women have higher odds of dying from breast cancer than younger women, suggesting that older patients may not be benefiting as much from advances in breast cancer care made over the past three decades.

Researchers analyzed U.S. government data from 1980 to 2007. They found that breast cancer death rates were stable throughout the 1980s for women aged 20-64 but rose for women 65 and older.

Between 1990 and 2007, the largest decrease in breast cancer death rates occurred in women aged 20-49 (2.4 percent per year), helped by widespread availability of mammography and the use of hormonal therapy and adjuvant chemotherapy, according to the researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

At the same time, the smallest decrease in breast cancer deaths was seen among women aged 75 and older (1.1 percent per year).

"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," lead author Dr. Benjamin Smith, an assistant professor in the radiation oncology department, said in an MD Anderson news release .

The study found marked shifts in breast cancer mortality over time. For example, in 1980-84, women aged 75 and older had the lowest 10-year risk of breast cancer death (24 percent) while the risk ranged from 29 percent to 31 percent for those younger than 75. But by 1995-97, the 10-year risk of breast cancer death was 17.3 percent for women 75 and older and 15.4 percent to 16.6 percent for younger women.

The data also revealed that the 2006 death rate for black women with breast cancer was 38 percent higher than for white women.

"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," Smith said.

The study was published in the Nov. 7 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

More than 230,000 U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, according to the American Cancer Society. About 40,000 of them will be 75 and older, which makes them the fastest-growing segment of the breast cancer population, according to Smith.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about breast cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: MD Anderson Cancer Center, news release, Nov. 7, 2011

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