Scientists find higher risk of second cancers in breast cancer survivors

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Survivors of breast cancer, who represent the largest group of cancer survivors in the UK, are facing significantly higher risks of developing second cancers.

This heightened risk includes endometrial and ovarian cancers in women and prostate cancer in men.

Recent findings from a comprehensive study involving almost 600,000 patients in England have shed light on this alarming trend and introduced a new variable into the mix: the impact of socioeconomic status.

Breast cancer is not only the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, but also one that has seen increasing survival rates due to advances in detection and treatment. About 56,000 people are diagnosed each year, and the vast majority are women.

With a five-year survival rate now reaching 87% as of 2017, the focus has increasingly shifted to the quality of life and long-term health of survivors.

The study, spearheaded by researchers at the University of Cambridge, revealed that breast cancer survivors are at a greater risk of developing a second primary cancer compared to the general population.

Prior studies indicated a 24% increased risk for women and 27% for men. The University of Cambridge’s latest research not only confirms these elevated risks but also highlights how these risks vary significantly based on where survivors live, their economic conditions, and their age at diagnosis.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Cancer Registration Dataset, which included over 580,000 women and 3,500 men who survived breast cancer between 1995 and 2019.

Their findings, published in The Lancet Regional Health—Europe, emphasized the pronounced risk for cancers in the contralateral breast, endometrium, and prostate.

Particularly striking were the findings related to socioeconomic factors. The study found that individuals from more deprived areas were 35% more likely to develop a second cancer compared to those from wealthier backgrounds.

The types of second cancers also varied, with lung, kidney, head and neck, bladder, esophageal, and stomach cancers being notably more common among the deprived groups.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption, which are more prevalent in these groups, are likely contributors to this increased risk.

Age at initial diagnosis also played a crucial role. Women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50 were found to be 86% more likely to develop a second primary cancer than their counterparts in the general population of the same age group, while those diagnosed after 50 had a 17% increased risk.

This suggests that genetic factors, including mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, might influence the heightened risk among younger survivors.

For male survivors, the study highlighted a dramatic relative risk of developing contralateral breast cancer, though the absolute risk remains low. Male survivors were also 58% more likely to develop prostate cancer than the general male population.

This extensive study underscores the need for targeted follow-up care for breast cancer survivors, considering their increased risk of subsequent cancers.

It also calls attention to the significant disparities in health outcomes based on socioeconomic status, urging further research and policy efforts to address these inequities.

The findings stress the importance of personalized monitoring and prevention strategies that take into account not only the medical history but also the socioeconomic context of survivors, aiming to mitigate the risk and impact of second cancers.

If you care about breast cancer, please read studies about a major cause of deadly breast cancer, and common blood pressure drugs may increase death risk in breast cancer.

For more information about cancer prevention, please see recent studies about nutrient in fish that can be a poison for cancer, and results showing this daily vitamin is critical to cancer prevention.

The research findings can be found in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe.

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