Thanks to improvements in treatment along with early detection, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer patients has grown from about 75 percent to over 90 percent since the late 1970s. In the mid-1970s, screening mammography developed into standard practice and the technology continues to improve. The latest digital mammography machines utilize less radiation while providing images with greater detail that allow earlier detection of malignancies.
Treatments for breast cancer have also been greatly improved. Mastectomy used to be the most common surgical treatment for breast cancer and chemotherapy usually left patients extremely ill from side effects. Newer ways of administering chemotherapy, along with preemptive use of anti-nausea medications, allow patients to tolerate treatment more easily.
For certain patients, chemotherapy may be used prior to lumpectomy to reduce the size of the tumor to preserve more of the breast or avoid the need for mastectomy. Oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and surgeons work together to coordinate care using multiple therapies to save more of the breast when possible and minimize side effects from treatment. Hormonal therapy can be used to reduce the risk of recurrence of certain early-stage cancers. Even in cases of metastatic breast cancer, new targeted therapies are improving the length of survival and quality of life for patients managing disease that has spread to other areas of the body. The latest research involves the genetics of breast cancer which will allow for even more specific treatments to be developed.
In addition to the significant improvements in diagnostics and treatment over the last several decades, there are also better networks of support to address the emotional and other needs of breast cancer patients.