A new study has shown that breast cancer can return 15 years after a patient has completed treatment
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicinehas shown that women with large tumours and cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes had the highest 40% risk of it coming back. According to the researchers, extending treatment with hormone therapy could reduce the risk of it recurring.
They came to this discovery by analysing the progress of 63,000 women for 20 years, all had the most common form of breast cancer.
This type of cancer is fuelled by the hormone oestrogen which can stimulate cancer cells to grow and divide. Every patient received treatments such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors which block the effects of oestrogen or shut off the hormone’s supply. Although after five years of treatment their cancers had gone, over the next 15 years a steady number of women found that their cancer spread throughout their body – some up to 20 years after diagnosis.
Women who originally had large tumours and cancer that had spread to four or more lymph nodes were at highest risk of the cancer returning the next 15 years, the study said. Women with small, low-grade cancers and no spread to the lymph nodes had a much lower 10% risk of cancer spread over that time. Prof Arnie Purushotham, senior clinical adviser at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said that since the research began, new drugs had been used to treat breast cancer and those worked in different ways to tamoxifen. He said: “It’s vital that work continues to better predict which cancers might return.
“We also need to know what the difference for women might be in taking hormone therapies for 10 years instead of five, the side effects and how this affects patients’ quality of life.”