Most women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are expected to become “long-term survivors”, according to a breakthrough study.
The research, funded by Cancer Research UK, found significant improvements in the number of women surviving the disease since the 1990s.
Women diagnosed between 2010 and 2015 were 66% less likely to die from the disease within five years compared to those diagnosed in the 1990s, the study found.
Researchers led by Oxford University tracked the survival rates of 500,000 women in England diagnosed with breast cancer – the most common type of cancer in the UK – between 1993 and 2015.
They mostly looked at cases where the disease had not spread past the breast, then analysed the patients five years after their diagnosis when the risk of death from the cancer was found to be highest.
Women diagnosed between 1993 to 1999 had a 14.4% chance of death within five years of the cancer being detected.
However, this dropped to 4.9% for those diagnosed between 2010 and 2015.
For some women, the risk of death within five years was as low as 0.2%.
The researchers concluded that “most [patients] can expect to be long-term cancer survivors”.
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Some of the reasons for the improvement in survival rates may be down to new treatments, improved radiotherapy, better detection and breast screening, and studies discovering the varying characteristics of breast cancer, experts said.
Dr Carolyn Taylor, professor of oncology at Oxford Population Health and lead author of the paper, said: “In the future, further research may be able to reduce the breast cancer death rates for women diagnosed with early breast cancer even more.”
Cancer Research UK said the figures were “heartwarming” and praised the scientific input contributing to the “huge improvements” over the last 20 years.
Doctors will be able to use the large-scale study to provide an accurate prognosis for women, the charity said.
However, its CEO Michelle Mitchell said that still “the UK lags behind other countries when it comes to cancer survival”.
She added: “The governments across the UK must show political leadership in cancer by taking action to help diagnose and treat cancers earlier and ensure the NHS has enough staff and equipment to meet the growing demands of the future.”