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Study Says Breast-Cancer Treatments Increase Survival Rates

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

More than one million new cases of breast cancer are reported every year around the world. But survival rates have increased in recent years in the United States, Britain and some other countries. A new report says drug treatments have played a major part.

Researchers at Oxford University in England led a team that gathered results from nearly two hundred studies. These involved one hundred forty-five thousand women with early breast cancer.

When breast cancer is found early, before it has spread, doctors can operate to remove any disease they find. But some cells may remain that can become cancerous later in life. So additional treatments aim to prevent breast cancer from coming back.

In some cases, the new study found that drugs could reduce by half the risk of death from breast cancer within fifteen years. That is, from the time the cancer is found. This effect was shown in middle-aged women with the most common breast cancer. They began with six months of a combination of chemotherapy drugs. Then came five years of the drug tamoxifen. Tamoxifen helps block the effects of estrogen. Estrogen is the hormone linked to the most common kind of breast cancer.

The researchers found that survival rates were higher fifteen years after treatment than they were after five years. They note that further improvements in long-term survival could result from newer drugs, or from better use of older one. The report also says the risk of dying from the drugs was small.

The report appeared in May in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Two unrelated studies were also in the news. Researchers at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center in Los Angeles did one of them. They found some evidence that a low-fat diet can reduce the chances that breast cancer will return within five years.

The second study dealt with exercise among three thousand women with breast cancer. Doctor Michelle Holmes at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston led the study. She says almost any amount of physical activity was linked with a lower risk of death from breast cancer.

She says women who walked three to five hours per week gained the most improvement. They were half as likely to die from the disease as inactive women with breast cancer.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Our reports are on the Web at I'm Gwen Outen.