Recurrence Rates: The Data Speaks… Sort Of

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • I often cruise the Web looking for breast cancer news, and found myself scratching my head at the following headlines I read recently, one right after the other, all on the same day:

    Risk of breast cancer relapse is low after surviving 5 years - USA Today 

    Relapse Still a Real Possibility for Breast Cancer Patients - U.S. News & World Report

    Breast cancer recurrence seen as low after 5 years - Reuters news service

    Breast Cancer: Risk Remains Years Later - WebMD Health News

    I figured I’d better do more than just scan headlines, so decided to get to the bottom of this story. Here’s a piece from ABC News:

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    Researchers in Texas have good news for survivors of breast cancer.
    A new study shows even women with advanced breast cancer have a low risk of recurrence.

    After studying more than 2,800 women treated for breast cancer, researchers at the University of Texas say just seven percent of women with early stage cancer saw it return after five years.

    Just 11 percent of stage two cancer patients suffered a recurrence. And for those with stage three cancer, 13 percent experienced a recurrence.

    Meanwhile, from The Nursing Times:

    Breast cancer survivors still at risk after five years
    Survivors of breast cancer continue to have a substantial risk of the disease recurring after five years of therapy, a study has shown.

    Findings were based on a US study of 2,838 breast cancer patients treated between 1995 and 2001 at the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas…

    The five-year risk of relapse for women with stage I was 7%, 11% for women with stage II disease and 13% for women with stage III disease…

    "In conclusion, this study demonstrates that patients with early stage breast cancer who are disease free at five years after [adjuvant systemic therapy] have a substantially increased residual risk of recurrence," the authors write.

    Well, ain’t that a prime example of “glass half empty, glass half full”? Just goes to show you can take any piece of data, and torture it till it says what you want it to.

    It’s interesting to note which side of this fence you’re on. Say you’re a stage II survivor. How do you think about your recurrence risk? Are you feeling safe, since 89% of women in your position don’t have a recurrence? Or scared, since 11% DO have a recurrence? Which way would you rather feel?

    You can choose, you know. There’s not much in life we can control. But attitude is one thing that’s entirely ours, to do with as we please. Oh sure, it’s hard to resist doing the mental “what if” and stressing over the possibility you’ll end up in that 11%. But statistically speaking, if nearly 9 out of 10 women with stage II breast cancer do NOT suffer a recurrence, isn’t it pretty certain you’ll be in that group?

    Bottom line, how would you rather spend your time? Worrying about something that most likely won’t happen, or kicking back at a good chick flick with your best girlfriend?

    It’s your choice.


Published On: September 01, 2008