Potential Good News for Patients with Stage IV Breast Cancer

Dec 3, 2015

A new study from the University of Iowa shows that for some patients with stage IV breast cancer, surgery can significantly prolong their lives. 

Once breast cancer reaches stage IV, the disease has spread to parts of the body beyond the breasts. Many doctors consider these patients incurable and won't operate as they don't want to incur the risks of surgery in an already terminal patient.

But it turns out surgery may be worthwhile. 

The UI study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association Surgery, looks at more than 21,000 women who were diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer between 1988 and 2001, whose data was tracked by the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. It shows that 10-percent of women who receive surgery to treat their stage IV breast cancer lived beyond the 10-year mark. Among those who didn’t have surgery, only roughly three percent lived past a decade.

"As we think about women diagnosed in 2015, could these numbers be even better?" says Dr. Alexandra Thomas, the study's lead author. "Imagining today captures really small deposits of metathetic disease. So we might label somebody incurable, whereas in 1995 we might not even have caught that disease because our imagining wasn’t as good."

Thomas cautions that surgery is not appropriate for every stage IV patient, but rather should be looked at as, "a tool on our tool shelf for select patients."