Breast Cancer Plus Other Health Issues Linked to Worse Outcomes

To improve survival, doctors should monitor co-occurring conditions, researchers say

THURSDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- Women diagnosed with breast cancer who also suffer from other health problems have higher death rates than women who just have breast cancer, according to researchers.

Even compared with women with more advanced breast cancer but no chronic illness, those who had conditions such as heart disease, ulcers or diabetes still had a similar or lower survival rate, the study authors reported in the June 30 online edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"Careful attention to the effective management of comorbid [co-occurring] conditions, as well as to the management of a patient's cancer, may result in longer overall survival for older breast cancer patients," Jennifer Patnaik, from the University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, and colleagues wrote in a journal news release.

The researchers identified more than 64,000 women aged 66 years and older with breast cancer. Forty-two percent had a history of one or more of the following 13 health conditions: stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney failure, congestive heart failure, dementia, diabetes, liver disease, heart attack, paralysis, peripheral vascular disease, previous cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcers.

The study showed that each of these conditions was associated with increased risk of death from any cause, including cancer. Women between 66 and 74 years old were particularly vulnerable.

Patnaik and colleagues concluded that whether or not breast cancer patients have other health issues is an important factor in predicting outcomes and managing a woman's cancer to ensure longer survival.

The authors of an editorial accompanying the study recommended that breast cancer treatment be customized and that any co-occurring conditions be jointly managed between a woman's oncologist and primary care physician.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on breast cancer.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, June 30, 2011

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