Breast Cancer Survival Worse With Multiple Diseases: Study

Older women who have breast cancer are less likely to survive if they also also diagnosed with another disease, according to a sweeping new study released today.

Approximately half of the older women surveyed had at least one of 13 additional conditions, such as a previous cancer, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, stroke, diabetes, liver disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Their impact on survival was pronounced: Researchers found that each condition was linked with death stemming from any cause, including cancer, as well as lower survival rates. Notably, patients with stage 1 tumors and one or more additional conditions had survival rates that were equal to -- or worse than -- their counterparts who had stage 2 tumors and no additional conditions.

Jenna Patnaik, pHD, of the University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, and the study's co-author, suggested that the study has important implications for how patients are treated. "Risk management of factors associated with personal health issues, particularly cardiovascular disease, can help improve overall survival," she explained in an e-mail to HuffPost.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens and Dr. Jeff Abrams of the National Cancer Institute, said the study has significant implications for clinical care of breast cancer patients over the age of 65, who comprise of over half of the 200,000 some women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. each year.

They said that physicians may reduce treatment or diminish its intensity in patients with multiple conditions. They also pointed out that there could be a biological interplay between cancer and other diseases that impacts the efficacy of certain treatments.

"The findings are provocative, suggesting that care should be individualized in patients with co-morbidities and the diseases should be co-managed between the oncologist and primary care physicians," the two doctors wrote.

Patnaik said that the study should in no way signal that older women who have breast cancer and additional disease should give up hope.

"While cancer is obviously a very serious disease, you are likely to survive it," she said. "Try to allow your cancer diagnosis to motivate you into adopting a healthier lifestyle. Most importantly, include exercise and health eating into your daily routine and quit smoking if you currently smoke."

Researchers analyzed data from more than 64,000 women in the U.S. aged 66 and older who had received a breast cancer diagnosis between 1992 and 2000. The results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.