I can't say how much this just aggravates me. You get breast cancer. You get treatment and then they say we will see you once a year. You are NED (No Evidence Of Disease) for now. If you are hormone receptor positive (ER+/PR+) you get to take a little pill (tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors) that should help you stay that way.
But there is always that lingering risk of recurrence. That's the one thing none of us want. A new study which looked at data from 88 different clinical trials over more than 20 years found that the risk of recurrence lingers after the AIs are ended.
"Researchers from the Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group analyzed data from 88 clinical trials involving 62,923 women with ER-positive breast cancer. The patients all received endocrine therapy for five years and were free of cancer when they stopped therapy.
Over the next 15 years, however, a steady number of these women saw their cancer spread throughout the body, as late as 20 years after the initial diagnosis.
"Even though these women remained free of recurrence in the first five years, the risk of having their cancer recur elsewhere (for example in the bone, liver or lung) from years five to 20 remained constant," says senior study author Daniel F. Hayes, M.D., Stuart B. Padnos Professor of Breast Cancer Research at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The risk of recurrence was directly tied to the original cancer's size and characteristics, and to the number of lymph nodes that were cancerous.
Among patients who were recurrence-free when they stopped taking endocrine therapy after five years, the highest risk of recurrence was for those with originally large tumors and cancer that had spread to four or more lymph nodes. These women had a 40 percent risk of a distant cancer recurrence over the next 15 years. Women with small, low-grade cancers and no spread to the lymph nodes had a much lower 10 percent risk of cancer spreading distantly during the following 15 years."
Isn't this comforting? On my part, I had a relatively small, moderately aggressive, and one positive lymph node. So that must put me in between the 10 and 40% risk of recurrence. Also, I am on the schedule for AIs for up to ten years. Maybe I will ask if I can continue them? But being on AIs only lowers your risk of recurrence, does not remove your risk of recurrence.
However, I do put a lot of credibility into this study as it reanalyzed data from so many studies. This is the kind of research that is the 'more research that was needed'. This just aggravates me that in this day and age, we still do not have a cure.
There goes my warm fuzzy feeling for the day. And you wonder why I deal with stress, depression, and anxiety.
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