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What Are the Most Common Causes of Death for Breast Cancer Survivors?

Breast cancer.

Researchers discovered that a significant number of breast cancer survivors die from heart and cerebrovascular diseases, providing important insight on how breast cancer survivors should be counseled on potential health risks.

In this study, published in Cancer, data on 754,270 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer during 2000 through 2015 from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program were analyzed. The researchers then calculated standardized mortality ratios for causes of death.

During the follow-up, 183,002 (24.3%) study participants died. Most deaths (46.2%) happened within 1 to 5 years after diagnosis. The most deaths reported occurred from breast cancer itself or other cancers, but the amount of breast cancer deaths declined as more years passed after diagnosis. Within 10 years after diagnosis, the most common noncancer causes of death in breast cancer survivors were heart diseases followed by cerebrovascular diseases. Ten years post diagnosis, heart diseases followed by Alzheimer disease were the most frequent noncancer causes of death. Survivors of breast cancer had a significantly higher likelihood of dying from chronic liver diseases within 5 to 10 years after diagnosis compared with the general population. In addition, death from Alzheimer disease and heart disease was at a statistically significant higher rate for breast cancer survivors 10 years after diagnosis.

"Non-cancer diseases, such as heart diseases, contribute to a significant number of deaths in patients with breast cancer, even higher than in the general population," commented senior author, Mohamad Bassam Sonbol, MD, of Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. "Cancers other than breast cancer are also an important cause of death in patients with a history of breast cancer."

This research will contribute insight to the discussion between physicians and breast cancer survivors about future health. "Our findings emphasize the importance of counseling patients about their survivorship and risk of developing other cancers, with a focus on proper screening or preventive measures for other cancers and diseases," Dr. Sonbol explained.

For More Information

Afifi AM, Saad AM, Al-Husseini MJ, et al (2019). Causes of death after breast cancer diagnosis: a US population-based analysis. Cancer. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1002/cncr.32648

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY 2.0


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