Medical experts are calling for a major overhaul of research into metastatic breast cancer — the most advanced stage of the disease, which leaves women feeling isolated and helpless.
Despite advances in the treatment of breast cancer, around 30% of women initially diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer eventually develop recurrent, advanced or metastatic disease.
A report found significant shortcomings in the treatment and management of metastatic breast cancer and confirmed many misconceptions and misunderstandings surround the disease.
“It is clear that patients globally face stigma and isolation from their communities when they are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, a time when they are most in need of high-quality support,” it states.
It found that early detection did not help survival for metastatic breast cancer patients. Average survival is only two to three years but many women can live much longer. The ‘Global Status of Metastatic Breast Cancer 2005-2015 Decade’ report found that most people wrongly believe women diagnosed and treated early will not develop metastatic breast cancer. Also, the vast majority (up to 76%) believe that metastatic breast cancer is curable.
The report points out that the focus on early detection combined with significant advances in treatments for metastatic breast cancer resulted in a perception that breast cancer has been largely “cured”.
The report, developed by drugs company,Pfizer in collaboration with the European School of Oncology, found that research into advanced breast cancer had fallen behind other cancer research.
“The gap is stark, especially when compared with other cancers, such as lung and melanoma,” it points out.
“There is an urgent need for new metastatic breast cancer research, as it is lagging behind other tumour types.”
Consultant medical oncologist John Crown said that most women with metastatic breast cancer are now surviving for some years and more should be done for them.
“Living under this continuous shadow of an incurable, ultimately fatal illness, is, obviously, a terrible burden,” said Prof Crown.
“While newer, less toxic treatments offer the promise of longer and better life, more also needs to be done to provide support for a condition which can be notoriously isolating and indeed stigmatising.”
According to the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, there are more than 30,000 women living with breast cancer in Ireland.
The rate of female breast cancer in Ireland is 12.5% higher than the EU average with more than 2,800 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year. Irish mortality rates are the third highest in the EU with more than 680 women dying from breast cancer each year.
Head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, Robert O’Connor, said the society wants to ensure that women have the least risk of getting breast cancer and the best treatments if they do. He said new research is needed to help women thrive after treatment.
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