Deaths from breast cancer have fallen faster in the UK than in any other major European country over the past two decades – but the benefits have not been equally shared by all women.
The breast cancer death rate fell by 35 per cent in England and Wales, and by 30 per cent in Scotland and Northern Ireland, compared with a 19 per cent fall in Europe overall between 1987-89 and 2004-06.
Earlier diagnosis, improvements in surgery, chemotherapy and hormonal treatments, and better access to specialist treatment are behind the fall. Contrary to public perception, survival rates are now comparable with the rest of Europe.
But the success is marred by the uneven distribution of the gain among the age groups. Women under 50 have seen twice as big a fall in the death rate as women over 70 – implying older women are not getting optimum treatment.
Phillippe Autier, research director at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyons, led the study published in the British Medical Journal.