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Breast cancer survival rates lower for older women

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Summary of story from Reuters, November 12, 2011

Although fewer women are dying of breast cancer, a new study in the United States suggests that improvements for survival are slowest among older women.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, noted that women diagnosed with breast cancer who are 75 or older receive less aggressive treatment than younger women.

This is because the disease can grow more slowly in this age group and also because a shorter life expectancy means some do not live long enough for the treatment to make a difference.

In addition, guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force do not call for regular breast cancer screening in all women older than 74 — after that, the decision should be between a woman and her doctor.

Less screening could contribute to women in this age group being diagnosed when the cancer is more advanced but it also avoids catching and treating small cancers that may not turn into anything.

Over the period 1990 to 2007 there has been a one-percent yearly drop in deaths in women 75 and older, compared to a 2.5-percent drop for those in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

However the message is mostly a positive one. Dr Benjamin Smith, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who worked on the study said:

“For the most part, this paper is just this amazing story of the wonderful successes that we’ve had in lowering the burden of breast cancer in the United States. I think that’s not to be lost.”

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