More than 130,000 UK breast cancer deaths have been avoided in the last 30 years, according to new Cancer Research UK analysis to mark breast cancer awareness month.
Breast cancer deaths in the UK hit a record high in 1989, when around 15,600 women lost their lives to the disease – but thanks to research developing new tests and better treatments, the death rate for women has since fallen by 44%.
This considerable drop is due to major advances in diagnosis and treatment. In the last three decades, we have seen improvements in surgical techniques and use of radiotherapy, new drugs being made available and the impact of the national breast screening programme.
Research has also helped highlight the importance of diagnosing cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be successful. 98% of women whose breast cancer is caught at the earliest stage survive their disease for at least 5 years, but for those diagnosed at the most advanced stage this drops to around a quarter.
But there’s still a way to go. Research happening right now is focused on helping the one in five women whose cancers are still incurable. Every year in the UK, breast cancer claims around 11,400 lives and around 55,200 new cases are diagnosed.
Studies like Cancer Research UK’s Personalised Breast Cancer Programme are investigating personalised treatment options for women based on the genetic makeup of their tumour. And the charity’s work developing blood tests for breast cancer may help doctors track how well treatments are working, and even predict if someone’s cancer could come back and spread.
Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “These numbers show that research is working, and we should celebrate the considerable progress that’s been made – but while lives are still being lost, our work is not done yet.
“Our ongoing research into the biology of breast cancer is vital. With this increased understanding, we’re developing new life-saving treatments; making them kinder, more effective, and more personalised to individual people.
“Diagnosing cancer early can save lives. If you get to know what’s normal for your body, you’re more likely to notice if something changes and can raise any concerns with your doctor.”