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Outlook continues to improve for patients hit by breast cancer; Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with around 48,000 women being diagnosed every year in the UK. Cathy Owen found out what can cause the condition, who it affects and the research into the disease.

As with many other types of cancer, the outcome for breast cancer depends on the type of cancer and how early or advanced it is when it is diagnosed.

Other factors that affect outlook include how abnormal the cancer cells are (the grade) and whether the cancer cells have receptors for particular treatments.

Overall, in the UK, more than 85 out of every 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer live for at least five years after diagnosis. More than 75 out of every 100 people live for at least 10 years.

The good news is that the outlook for breast cancer continues to improve. If breast cancer is going to come back, it is most likely to do so within the first two years. With some other types of cancer, you are likely to be cured if your cancer has not come back within five years. Unfortunately, breast cancer can come back 10 or 20 years after you were first diagnosed. But this is not common and the more time that passes since your diagnosis, the less likely it is that your cancer will come back.

The other good news is that the number of women dying from breast cancer has gone down significantly in the last 20 years in the UK.

This is probably for a number of reasons. In particular, the UK breast screening programme is picking up breast cancer earlier and treatments continue to improve.

Overall, the NHS breast screening programme reported in 2011 that for women whose breast cancers were picked up during screening, 83 out of 100 (83%) per cent are still alive 15 years after their diagnosis.

In the group of women who had small, low grade cancers with no spread outside the breast more than 90 out of 100 (90%) have survived for 15 years or more.

Researchers do know that the outlook for breast cancer depends on how early it is diagnosed - its stage. But it also depends on something called the grade of your cancer.

A spokesman for Cancer Research said: "The grade means how the cells look under the microscope. When your doctor removes or biopsies a breast cancer, they send the tissue to a laboratory where a pathologist looks at the cells and decides what grade they are.

"The more like normal breast cells they look, the lower the grade. And the more abnormal they look, the higher the grade.

"For breast cancer, there are three grades, called grade 1 (low grade), grade 2 (intermediate grade) and grade 3 (high grade)."

One of the biggest risk factors in developing breast cancer is age; the older you are the higher your risk. Therefore, it's important that women of any age are aware of any changes in their breasts and don't delay in telling their doctor if they are concerned, whatever their age.

The changes may be caused by something perfectly harmless, but should be checked out as they could be the first signs of a cancer.

Although breast cancer is usually associated with older women (80% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50) it can still affect younger women, with one in eight invasive breast cancers found in women younger than 45, according to Cancer Research UK.

Breast cancer can also occur in men, although it is very rare. Cancer Research UK estimate that around 370 men are diagnosed each year in the UK - the equivalent of one man for every 130 women diagnosed.

The causes of breast cancer are also not without controversy as diet, being overweight and excess drinking can all increase a woman's risk of developing the disease.

The World Cancer Research Fund believes more than 40% of breast and bowel cancer cases and a fifth of prostate cancers could be avoided if people ate more healthily and did more exercise.

The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Those who have two to five drinks daily have about 1.5 times the risk of women who don't drink alcohol.

It has also been suggested that regular exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer by as much as a third. For women who have been through the menopause, it is particularly important to keep their weight in check as being overweight can cause more oestrogen to be produced, which can increase the risk.

There is a lot of research into preventing breast cancer. Some studies are looking at how diet and lifestyle factors, like alcohol, may change genes in a way that could lead to breast cancer.

Research is also looking into drugs that may prevent breast cancer.

Tamoxifen is a drug that has been used to treat breast cancer for more than 35 years. It works by stopping oestrogen from triggering hormone receptors in breast cancer cells. Some women who are at high risk of breast cancer took Tamoxifen for five years as part of trials to see if it reduced their risk of developing it.

This year Cancer Research UK looked at the results of all these trials together. They showed that Tamoxifen can lower your risk of breast cancer if you are at high risk. The benefits of Tamoxifen in preventing breast cancer seem to last for at least another five years after treatment has ended.

The researchers estimate that one breast cancer would be prevented for every 42 women who took the drug for five years.

The researchers also looked at other drugs used to treat bone thinning (osteoporosis) that are similar to Tamoxifen. These were Raloxifene (Evista), Arzoxifene, and Lasofoxifene. These drugs also reduced the number of women who developed breast cancer.

The drugs have side effects though and they increase the risk of blood clots and strokes. Tamoxifen also slightly increases the risk of womb cancer.

A spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK said: "Although Tamoxifen and Raloxifene reduce breast cancer risk in women at high risk, it is not clear whether this reduces breast cancer deaths."

Overall, in the UK, more than 85 out of every 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer live for at least five years after diagnosis
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 11, 2013
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