Thursday 21 November 2019

More Irish women are winning breast cancer fight as death rate drops by a third

The death rate for breast cancer in Ireland has dropped by nearly a third since the late 1980s – the 10th best performance among 31 countries.
The death rate for breast cancer in Ireland has dropped by nearly a third since the late 1980s – the 10th best performance among 31 countries.

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

MORE women are surviving breast cancer than ever before.

Death rates for the disease have plummeted in Ireland over recent decades, a new study shows – while increasing numbers of women are now being treated in modern specialist centres.

The death rate for breast cancer in Ireland has dropped by nearly a third since the late 1980s – the 10th best performance among 31 countries.

The largest fall was in England and Wales at 41pc followed by Scotland, where the drop was 38pc.

For Ireland, the reduction was 32pc between 1987–2010, according to a study presented to the European Breast Cancer Conference in Glasgow.

It marks a major turnaround since the 1980s, as Prof Phillipe Autier of the Internal Prevention Research Unit at Lyon, France said the largest fall has been in those countries which once had the highest death rates.

His study reveals the death rate from the disease among Irish women aged under 50 has fallen by as much as 50pc since the late 1980s.

He said that improved treatments, rather than improved screening, helped to explain the improved rate of survival.

The encouraging trend comes as a separate study by the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin found that a majority of GPs here prefer to refer their breast cancer patients to one of the eight hospitals specialising in the disease.

The research, led by Niamh O'Rourke of the college's population health division, found that GPs opt for the eight specialist public hospitals for most patients – including those with health insurance.

SCREENING

The study found: "GPs in the south and west of the country, those further than 25 miles from a cancer centre, and those with more than 10 years' experience were more likely to cite their preference for a designated cancer centre in a public hospital.

"The overall preference for public hospital care was replicated for some other cancers but not for other diseases.

"GPs recommended breast cancer services in public hospitals as an example for other health services to adopt," the authors revealed.

Meanwhile, Prof Autier told the international conference in Glasgow: "Screening has played an important role in decreasing the average size of tumours at detection. However, trends in the incidence of advanced breast cancer have remained stable.

"This suggests that screening does not succeed in detecting potentially life-threatening cancers at an earlier stage, and the number of breast cancers that have already metastasised in distant organs when first diagnosed has not decreased.

"Hence these reductions in size simply represent the increasing incidence of small, early, non life-threatening cancers that are detected by screening.

"As a result, we can say that decreased numbers of breast cancer deaths are largely due to improved treatments, not to screening," Prof Autier added.

He said reductions in death rates from breast cancer were smallest in women aged 70 and over.

Breast cancer mortality among older women is continuing to increase in many countries, particularly those in central and eastern Europe.

"This can be mainly ascribed to the under-treatment, which is common among older women with breast cancer," the conference was told.

Irish Independent

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