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Risk of Breast Cancer Relapse Can Linger
Date:8/12/2008

Study shows recurrence after five-year mark, but numbers aren't as high as some might suspect, study says

TUESDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The risk of relapse can linger for some breast cancer survivors even after completing five years of what doctors call systemic therapy, a new study found.

But, as gloomy as that news sounds, there is a relative bright spot: the risk may not be as dire as many women fear.

"I would like to think these numbers are smaller than women think they are," the study's lead author, Dr. Abenaa Brewster, a medical oncologist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said.

Most women, she added, "remain terrified they are going to relapse. I think the message for women is, the risk may not be as large as they think."

Brewster's team evaluated 2,838 breast cancer patients whose disease ranged from stage I to III. All had been treated with some form of adjuvant systemic therapy between 1985 and 2001 and had remained disease-free for five years, which is traditionally considered a landmark in cancer survival.

The women had a variety of treatments -- surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or endocrine therapy. Endocrine therapy involves tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors and a combination of the drugs and is usually given for five years.

About 10 years after the diagnosis, 89 percent of the women remained recurrence-free. And about 80 percent remained recurrence-free 15 years after the diagnosis.

In all, 216 patients developed a recurrence, Brewster said. She found that the risk or recurrence varied by stage and tumor type. Those women with stage I disease had a 7 percent chance of relapse; stage II, 11 percent; and stage III, 13 percent.

Besides the stage of cancer at diagnosis, hormone receptor status affected risk, the study found. "Women who had ER-positive cancer were more likely to have late recurrences than those
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