Older women with breast cancer in England are less likely to survive the disease than four other European countries (Poland, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands), new research suggests.
Published today in the British Journal of Cancer, the study is the biggest of its kind looking at breast cancer patients aged 70 and over. It revealed that England ranked worst out of the selected countries for five-year survival for the condition at stages two and three.
The research team from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands analysed records of over 200,000 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer before it had metastasised.
Why is England suffering?
It was found that patients with stage one or two breast cancer in England are most likely to have no surgery as part of their treatment compared with other countries.
Not having surgery at stage three was found to be linked to poorer survival. The study found that 44% of patients received no surgery at stage three compared to 22% of patients in Belgium.
The overall number of patients with stage three breast cancer surviving their disease for five years or more in England (48%) was 12% lower than in Belgium (60%).
A surprising result
Author Dr Marloes Derks said: “The fact breast cancer mortality in England is higher than in other countries in this study even for those women whose cancer is in its earliest stage suggests there is something more at play than just a failure to diagnose it early.
“We were surprised to see England had lower levels of breast cancer surgery, and further research is needed to establish whether these two factors are linked.”
Should older patients be considered for surgery?
Professor Arnie Purushotham, senior clinical advisor at Cancer Research UK, added: “We know that surgery is one of the most effective treatments for breast cancer, so it’s vital that women in England aren’t missing out on surgical treatment that could save their lives.
“We need to better understand why patients in England are less likely to have surgery than their European counterparts. Surgery should be considered in all older patients who are fit to undergo this treatment.
“While the thought of an operation might sometimes be daunting, breakthroughs in surgical techniques have meant that for many patients a lumpectomy with minimal surgery to the armpit glands can be just as effective as more radical treatment.”