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More Women Are Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer and Living Longer

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According to research from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the number of women living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States is increasing; at the same time, women with metastatic disease are living longer, especially younger women.

The research was published online on May 18, 2017 by the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Read the abstract of “Estimation of the Number of Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer in the United States.”

Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread to parts of the body away from the breast, such as the bones or liver. Metastatic breast cancer is stage IV cancer. A woman can be diagnosed with metastatic disease when first diagnosed. Breast cancer also can come back (recur) in a part of the body away from the breast. This is called metastatic recurrence.

"Even though this group of patients with metastatic breast cancer is increasing in size, our findings are favorable," said Angela Mariotto, Ph.D., chief of the Data Analytics Branch of the Division of Cancer Control and Populations Sciences at the NCI. "This is because, over time, these women are living longer with metastatic breast cancer. Longer survival with metastatic breast cancer means increased needs for services and research. Our study helps to document this need."

Although researchers have been able to estimate the number of women initially diagnosed with metastatic disease, information on the number of women with a metastatic recurrence or metastatic progression has been lacking because U.S. registries do not routinely collect or report data on recurrence.

The researchers estimated the number of women diagnosed with metastatic disease by using breast cancer mortality and survival statistics from the SEER databases. The SEER databases are large registries of cancer cases from sources throughout the United States maintained by the National Institutes of Health. By their calculations, 154,794 women were living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States by Jan. 1, 2017.

The study compared 5-year survival rates from 1992 to 1994 and from 2005 to 2012:

  • Among women younger than 50 initially diagnosed with metastatic disease, 5-year survival rates doubled from 18% to 36%.

Also among women younger than 50, average survival time increased from 22.3 months to almost 39 months. For women ages 50 to 64, average survival time grew from just over 19 months to almost 30 months.

The researchers also reported that a small but meaningful number of women live many years after an initial diagnosis of metastatic disease. More than 11% of women diagnosed between 2000-2004 younger than 64 lived for 10 years or more.

The researchers estimated that the number of women living with metastatic breast cancer increased by 4% from 1990 to 2000 and by 17% from 2000 to 2010. They project that the number will increase by 31% from 2010 to 2020. Although the largest group of women with metastatic disease is women who have been living with metastatic disease for 2 years or fewer (40%), about 34% of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer have lived for 5 years or more with the disease.

"These findings make clear that the majority of metastatic breast cancer patients, those who are diagnosed with non-metastatic cancer but progress to distant disease, have never been properly documented," said Dr. Mariotto. "This study emphasizes the importance of collecting data on recurrence at the individual level in order to foster more research into the prevention of recurrence and the specific needs of this growing population."

If you’ve been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, there are two important things to remember:

  • You are not alone. More and more people are living life to the fullest while being treated for advanced-stage cancer.
  • You can have confidence that there are a wide variety of available metastatic treatment choices. There are many treatment options for advanced breast cancer, and new medicines are being tested every day. While metastatic breast cancer may not go away completely, treatment may control it for a number of years, as this study shows. If one treatment stops working, there usually is another you can try. The cancer can be active sometimes and then go into remission at other times. Many different treatments -- alone, in combination, or in sequence -- are often used. Breaks in treatment can make a big difference when the disease is under control and you are feeling good.

For more information, including member stories, podcasts, slideshows, discussion board topics, and blog posts on metastatic disease, visit the Metastatic Breast Cancer pages.

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