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Older breast cancer patients who have additional medical conditions have worse survival than patients without other illnesses.  These findings were recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

According to results from previous studies, illness in addition to breast cancer may shorten survival and increase death rates among older women with breast cancer. Studies to date have assessed the association between other illness as a whole and breast cancer death but have not evaluated specific illnesses independently.

To better understand how medical conditions in addition to breast cancer may affect survival among older women, researches selected 13 medical conditions to evaluate; these included stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic renal failure, congestive heart failure, dementia, diabetes, liver disease, heart attack, paralysis, peripheral vascular disease, previous cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcers. A total of 64,034 breast cancer patients were included in the study. Patients were 66 years old and older and had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 1992 and 2000.

  • 42% of patients had a history of one or more of the selected illness.
  • Patients with selected illnesses experienced shorter overall survival times and increased overall deaths from breast cancer and other conditions compared with patients without another illness.
  • When patients between 66 and 74 years of age were further analyzed according to age and type of illness other than breast cancer, overall survival was worse or similar among patients with Stage I breast cancer and another illness compared with patients with Stage II breast cancer and no other illness.
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It appears that certain illnesses in addition to breast cancer may decrease overall survival and increase death among older women with breast cancer. These findings may help doctors more accurately predict survival among breast cancer patients. As well, they underscore the importance of balancing treatment for breast cancer with treatment for other conditions.

Reference: Patnaik JL, Byers T, DiGuiseppi C, et al. The influence of comorbidities on overall survival among older women diagnosed with breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute [online publication]. June 30, 2011.

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