More than 130,000 UK breast cancer deaths have been avoided in the last three decades, according to new analysis by Cancer Research UK.
Deaths from the disease hit a record high in 1989, when around 15,600 women lost their lives to breast cancer. But better tests and treatment, and increasing awareness of the disease, means the death rate for women has since fallen by 44%.
In 1989, there were 59.8 deaths per 100,000 women. This dropped to 33.4 per 100,000 in 2017 – the most recent data available.
Cancer Research UK said improvements in cancer screening, surgery, radiotherapy and new drugs have all had an impact – plus more cancers are being picked up earlier. Around a quarter of breast cancer cases are diagnosed through the NHS breast screening programme.
Devon-based mum-of-two Deborah Huggons, 62, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 after finding a lump in her breast. Tests showed that she needed a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, as well as hormonal therapy Tamoxifen to reduce the risk of her cancer coming back.
“I had no history of breast cancer in the family and my diagnosis had such an effect on me, my friends and family,” Deborah said. “Early diagnosis is key and I really want to help get that message across; I’m very breast aware now and keen to help others.”
While the numbers show real progress, we can’t celebrate just yet – while lives are still being lost, a message echoed by Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell.
“Our ongoing research into the biology of breast cancer is vital,” she commented. “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.”
Early signs of breast cancer include a lump or thickening in the breast, but some people experience skin changes, breast pain and nipples changing position or leaking fluid. Read more about the signs of breast cancer here.