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Breast Cancer Prognosis

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The good news is that 88 per cent women who suffer breast cancers are known to have at least a good 10-year survival rate. This is a clear indication of favorable breast cancer prognosis, which is often successful treatment and a possibility of a complete cure, if breast cancers are detected in the early stages.

A survey says that there are 2 million plus breast cancer survivors in the United States alone. Although they are glad they survived longer, they admit, there are lurking uncertainties of possible recurrent cancer and certain foreseeable risks of the treatment itself.
Usually the risk or recurrence of cancer develops in about 5 years after treatment. Some may risk a cancer growth in the other breast. Some may suffer some other form of cancer. Nevertheless, not all women face the risk of recurrence for having suffered breast cancer once.
Researchers have identified several factors that determine successful treatment and the possibility for a complete cure of breast cancer. They may be the size and shape of the tumor, its location and rate at which the tumor spreads, the hormone receptive nature of the tumor i.e., whether the tumor is estrogen/progesterone positive or negative, the rate of cell division of the tumor, biologic tumor markers and genetic factors.

Bigger the tumor size in breast cancer, more the risk of recurrence. It is said that undifferentiated tumors, which have indistinct margins pose to be more dangerous than those with well defined margins.
The location, shape and size of breast tumors are important factors to understanding breast cancer prognosis. Studies show that there is 98 per cent 5-year survival rate for women whose cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes (node-negative breast cancers). There are, however, a few incidences of life-threatening recurrence in node-negative cancers as well. If the breast tumor is bigger than 5 centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes (node-positive cancers) the survival rate is known to be less than 75 per cent. Tumor located towards the outside of the breast tends to be less serious and less aggressive as compared to those in the middle or towards the inside of breast.

Late stages of breast cancer are known to spread to other sites such as the lung, liver and the bone. In such cases the average survival period of breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy is 1-2 years, although some patients have lived beyond these averages. The discovery of new combinations of cancer drugs is now furthering survival rates of patients with higher grade breast cancers as well.
Sometimes breast cancer cells contain receptors which bind with hormones like estrogen or progesterone. These cancer cells are called estrogen/progesterone receptor positive. Hormone receptor positive cells are known to spread cancer cells slowly and the prognosis is known to be better as such women have better cancer treatment options. Whereas, women having hormone receptor negative cells have no other cancer treatment option but to undergo chemotherapy.

About genetic factors influencing breast cancer prognosis, cancer researchers have identified 70 genes whose activity patterns help identify the nature of breast cancers. There are two significant inherited genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 which offer survival advantage to patients with breast cancer. While this is one school of thought, the other states that such inherited mutations do not necessarily make any difference to breast cancer prognosis. Some researchers are of the opinion that such inherited mutations may actually prove to worsen survival rate for breast cancer patients. Such inherited mutations do pose a greater risk of developing a new form of cancer, they feel.

Faster the rate of cell division in a breast tumor, more aggressive and dangerous is the cancer. Another determining prognostic factor is the measure of cells in a certain phase of cell division of the tumor.
Biological tumor markers: A considerable amount of research has gone into investigating certain substances in the tumor cells which may indicate whether the cancer is likely to spread to other parts of the body. They are called biologic tumor markers, based on which doctors are able to identify the course of treatment. To put it rather technically, one of the important researched tumor markers is HER-2 protein which is involved in the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. The presence of this protein suggests aggressive cancer. Research has shown that about 25-30 per cent of breast cancer patients have high levels of HER-2 protein.

If the growth of new blood vessels – angiogenisis – is high, doctors deduce that the tumor is developing its own supply of blood vessels thereby enabling the cancer cells to spread more rapidly. Specific angiogenesis factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (BFGF) are discovered to be important biological tumor markers. A newly invented drug has shown path-breaking clinical trials to prolong progression free survival even in women metastatic (fast spreading) breast cancer. Although many other tumor markers are being investigated upon, the significance of such clinical trials are not established yet, warn the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Published: 2008-01-27
Author: Paawana Poonacha Cariappa

About the author or the publisher
Byline articles for publications,PR content for corporates, syndicated articles for bigwigs, rhymes and short stories for children, and poetry for the like-minded...taking forward over 10 years experience as journalist/writer, presently working as Content Head for a Mumbai-based communications firm. You can view my bylines as "Paawana Poonacha" or "Paawana Poonacha Cariappa".

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