New York: Older women who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer can expect to live just as long as peers without breast cancer, according to a new study.That`s "a very encouraging message," said Dr. Elena Elkin, a breast cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who was not involved with the study. "More of the breast cancers we find are very small and diagnosed at an early stage. For older women especially these cancers generally have a favorable diagnosis," she said.More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the U.S., and a woman`s risk of getting the disease increases as she gets older.There is ongoing debate in the medical community, however, over whether routine screening for certain cancers will actually extend lives, particularly in older people whose life expectancy is likely to be influenced by other health issues, such as heart disease.In the current study, researchers compared the life expectancy and causes of death in women age 67 and older who were diagnosed with breast cancer and in a similar group of women without breast cancer.By consulting a register of cancer diagnoses in Medicare patients, the authors, led by Dr. Mara Schonberg of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, were able to identify almost 65,000 older women who were diagnosed with breast cancer of any stage between 1992 and 2003. For comparison, they collected information for a group of about 170,000 women of similar age, also on Medicare, who were not diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I suspect that a lot of these cancers are cancers that never would have affected someone`s life expectancy" had they not been caught, Schonberg told Reuters Health. However, she said, it`s very hard to know which cancers are going to progress and which are not likely to cause a woman`s death."This is the fundamental problem in screening for cancer in general," Elkin added. She said that each woman`s decision about whether or not to get screened should depend on how much she would benefit from doctors catching an early-stage cancer. Every older woman "should not just get a mammogram routinely, but have a discussion with her doctor," she said.The main message is that "screening can be effective even in older women," Elkin said. "What`s important is not necessarily a woman`s age but her general health and her life expectancy ... and that`s true for any age."Bureau report
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