The National Cancer Institute estimated that one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her lives and that a woman’s risk increases with age.
But new research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Breast
Cancer Research, told us that it’s not the breast cancer itself that women should fear, but rather heart problems brought on by age or other
health illnesses that arise as a result of cancer treatment.
Doctors pointed to advances in treatment for breast cancer and early detection as reasons why women face improved chances of survival from breast cancer.
The team of researchers from the University of Colorado found that two thirds of women with breast cancer died from causes other than the disease itself and that over the length of the study, cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death.
The researchers “analyzed data from the SEER-Medicare database and followed over 60,000 women in the U.S. who were at least 66 years old, from breast cancer diagnosis for up to 12 years,” according to the abstract.
Nearly half of the women were still alive at the end of the study reaching an average age of 83. Of those who passed away, the researchers found that more than two thirds died from causes other than breast cancer, and that cardiovascular disease killed more women with breast cancer than the cancer itself.
“Over the course of the study, it was found that older women, who were more likely to have other health problems resulting from previous cancer, cardiovascular disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or diabetes, were the most likely to die from causes other than their cancer. The pattern of causes of death for these women matches that seen amongst older women in the general population, with cardiovascular disease being top of the list,” according to the abstract.
"Cancer is a big killer and is responsible for about a quarter of all deaths. However breast cancer is not necessarily a death sentence and patients need to take care of their health to reduce their risk of dying from heart disease and other age-related diseases," warned one of the study’s authors, Jennifer Patnaik, from the University of Colorado Denver.
The study’s conclusion indicated that “attention to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease should be a priority for the long-term care of women following diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.”
So while the incidence of developing breast cancer seems significant, the larger concern is maintaining a healthy heart.
Heart disease beats breast cancer as the biggest killer
Cardiovascular disease competes with breast cancer as the leading cause of death for older females diagnosed with breast cancer: a retrospective cohort study
Probability of Breast Cancer in American Women
Bailey Mosier is a freelance journalist living in Winter Park, Florida. She received a Masters of Journalism from Arizona State University, played D-I golf, has been editor of a Scottsdale-based golf magazine and currently contributes to GolfChannel.com. She aims to live an active, healthy lifestyle full of sunshine and smiles.