Here at Thames Breast Clinic, we’ve been keeping tabs on the European Cancer Congress – the annual meeting of cancer care experts from across the continent – because many studies and findings discovered over the year are released there. One that certainly caught our attention was the announcement that women treated for very early signals of DCIS breast cancer are more likely to be still alive a decade later than the rest of the population.
According to the study, which tracked the progress of nearly ten thousand women in the Netherlands who were diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) between 1989 and 2004, the women studied over 50 had their risk of dying reduced by 10% when compared to people of the same age in the general population.
What is DCIS?
Ductal carcinoma in situ is the most typical type of non-invasive breast cancer. ‘Ductal’ refers to the milk ducts, where the cancer first forms, ‘Carcinoma’ refers to to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that cover or line organs, and ‘In Situ’ means ‘in its place of origin’.
DCIS is not a life-threatening condition, but it is a precursor of breast cancer: contracting DCIS increases the risk of developing an invasive cancer in the breast area in later life, and certain studies put the chances of a reoccurrence at 30%. There has been an increase of DCIS detection over time, but that’s a good thing: it’s an indication that people are living longer, and detection technology is improving.
How is DCIS treated?
The most common procedure for DCIS is lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy although there are other options – including a lumpectomy without radiation therapy and a mastectomy. In certain cases, hormonal therapy after surgery is recommended, in an attempt to block or lower the production of oestrogen.
Why would women with DCIS have higher survival rates?
The people behind the study are claiming no magic theories behind the results: rather, they surmise that the vast majority of people studied had their diagnosis through breast screening, which indicates they have been health-conscious and gotten themselves checked out at regular intervals, and have consequently caught their condition at an early enough stage to have something done about it.
And while specific mortality rates from breast cancer were higher than those among the general population – for obvious reasons – they eventually had a lower risk of dying from other cancers and diseases of the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems than the rest of the general population.
So, in short, it pays to keep tabs on the state of your breasts, early and often. While the idea of contracting DCIS is an understandably scary prospect, it’s better to know it’s there and have it treated sooner rather than later.
If you’re unsure about how to check your breasts, or think you may have found something of concern, please contact us.