UI study finds stage IV breast cancer patients living longer

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) - A new University of Iowa study has shown those with stage IV breast cancer are living longer and it might be because of something once thought unneeded.

The study, published earlier this month, looked at more than 21,000 cases from the past two and a half decades. Researchers focused on survival rates. They found from 1988 to 1991, median survival was around 20 months. Between the years 2007 and 2011, median survival jumped to 26 months.

UIHC Oncologist Dr. Alexandra Thomas said she wanted to help conduct the study in part because she was seeing more success with her own patients.

"We're seeing more and more stories like that,” Dr. Thomas said. “We wanted to ask, what does this look like broadly in the United States."

Dr. Thomas said the data study suggested primary tumor removal may be why more are living longer. In the past, primary tumors were often ignored to give patients a better quality of life by avoiding a mastectomy.

According to the data, when looking at those diagnosed before 2002, researchers found 9.6 percent of those who received surgery had at least 10 year survival, compared to 2.9 percent of those who didn't.

The reasons why that may be are numerous. Dr. Thomas said more research is needed.

"I hope the day will come when targeted systemic therapies can eradicate all disease, but we are not there yet," she said. "However, for a small but growing group of women with stage IV breast cancer, durable remission, or possibly even cure, might be possible. And, today, surgery might still be part of that equation."