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Diagnosis of Early Breast Cancer Doesn’t Shorten Life Expectancy of Older Women

Among women age 67 or older, a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or Stage I breast cancer doesn’t appear to worsen survival; survival is similar to that of older women without breast cancer. Diagnosis of more advanced breast cancer, however, is linked with worse survival. These results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Older women are a rapidly expanding segment of the U.S. population. The incidence of breast cancer increases with age, but it’s been uncertain how a diagnosis of breast cancer (particularly early-stage breast cancer) affects life expectancy among older women.

To explore the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on the survival of older women, researchers conducted a study among more than 64,000 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 67 or older. Survival in these women was compared with survival in a group of similarly aged women without breast cancer. In the analysis, the researchers accounted for the other health problems, prior mammography use, and sociodemographic variables.  

  • Women who were diagnosed with DCIS or Stage I breast cancer and received standard treatment had similar survival to women without breast cancer. The most common cause of death among women with DCIS or Stage I breast cancer was cardiovascular disease.
  • Women with Stage II or higher breast cancer had shorter survival than women without breast cancer. Risk of death was 50% higher among women with Stage II breast cancer, three-times higher among women with Stage III breast cancer, and close to 10-times higher among women with Stage IV breast cancer. The survival differences between women with advanced breast cancer and women without breast cancer decreased with age.

These results suggest that among older women, a diagnosis of DCIS or Stage I breast cancer does not shorten life expectancy.

Reference: Shonberg MA, Marcantonio ER, Ngo L, Li D, Silliman RA, McCarthy EP. Causes of death and relative survival of older women after a breast cancer diagnosis. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Early online publication March 14, 2011.