Breast cancer: awareness and innovation are priority

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month drew to a close in October, we were both inspired and motivated by the many stories relating to this disease. But, for all those with breast cancer, and for us at Sanofi, vital awareness and need for innovation won’t stop there. 

In 2020 female breast cancer surpassed lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world.1 In the UK, breast cancer accounts for approximately 15% of all new cancer cases2 – there are around 55,000 new cases every year, which equates to around 150 cases every day.3

So who does the disease affect, who is at increased risk and what can be done to address these rising numbers?

In short, breast cancer can affect any adults – male or female – but the risk increases with age4 and with history of breast cancer (in men or women) in members of your family.6

Breast cancer in men
Although breast cancer is most commonly thought of as a disease that affects women, breast cancer does occur in men. The incidence is lower however, only about 1 in 100 (1%) of breast cancer cases in the UK are in men.5

 Symptoms and signs can include:6

  • a lump in your breast
  • any other worrying symptoms, such as nipple discharge

Breast cancer in women
Whilst the disease can affect women under 50,7 the majority of cases are amongst older women.

Approximately 24% of all new breast cancer cases in the UK are diagnosed in people aged 75 and over,8 and incidence rates are highest in people aged 90 and over.3

Breast cancer in older patients
Breast cancer in older patients has poorer outcomes with 46% of cases being more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer compared to younger patients.9 The reasons for this are multiple and complex. Research has shown that cancer treatment in older people tends to be less aggressive in comparison to similar diagnosis in younger women10 and there are limited evidence-based guidelines addressing the management of older patients with breast cancer. Historically, clinical trials have enrolled younger patients with older patients being underrepresented, resulting in a reduced evidence-base upon which clinicians can base their clinical decision-making for this patient population with breast cancer.11

The burden of metastatic breast cancer
Metastatic (or secondary) Breast Cancer (MBC) the underlying cause of death for the vast majority of patients who succumb to their disease.12 MBC is a cancer that has spread outside the breast to another part of the body, such as the liver, brain, bones or lungs. It is also known as Stage IV cancer and is the most advanced stage of the disease.13 The goals of treatment in patients with metastases are to manage symptoms while maintaining function and quality of life.14

The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer may be different to those of early-stage breast cancer, but not always. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Some general symptoms or signs that could show that cancer has spread include:15

  • Feeling constantly tired
  • Constant nausea (feeling sick)
  • Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Bone pain or bone fractures may be due to tumour cells spreading to the bones
  • Headaches or dizziness could occur when cancer has spread to the brain
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain, could be caused by spread to the lungs
  • Jaundice, stomach swelling, build-up of fluid in the abdomen could suggest that the cancer has spread to the liver

Knowing the risks and symptoms are vital and the more we can all raise awareness, the better. We believe that the treatment and care of people living with metastatic breast cancer must be addressed to give them the best possible chance of managing this condition.

Overall, Sanofi remains committed to improving the lives of all people living with all forms of breast cancer, focusing on long-term efforts to advance much-needed innovation in this area.

References

  1. Sung H, Ferlay J, Siegal R, et al. Global Cancer Statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN Estimates of Incidence and Mortality Worldwide for 36 Cancers in 185 Countries. Ca Cancer J Clin. 2021;0:1–41
  2. Breast Cancer UK. About breast cancer. Facts and figures. Available at: https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/about-breast-cancer/facts-figures-and-q-as/facts-and-figures/. Last accessed November 2021.
  3. Cancer Research UK. Breast Cancer Statistics. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer#heading-Zero. Last accessed November 2021.
  4. Tesarova P. Breast cancer in the elderly—Should it be treated differently? Rep Pract Oncol Radiother. 2013 Jan; 18(1):26–33
  5. Cancer Research UK. Breast Cancer in Men. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/stages-types-grades/types/male-breast-cancer. Last accessed November 2021. 
  6. NHS, Overview. Breast cancer in men. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer-in-men/. Last accessed November 2021.
  7. NHS. Breast cancer in women. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer/. Last accessed November 2021.
  8. Breast Cancer Now. Facts and Statistics 2021. Available at: https://breastcancernow.org/about-us/media/facts-statistics. Last accessed November 2021.
  9. Macmillan UK. Breast cancer in older women. Available at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/documents/aboutus/research/keystats/breastcancerinolderwomen.pdf. Last accessed November 2021.
  10. Breast Cancer Org. Women Older Than 65 Have Worse Outcomes After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. Available at: https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/20120207. Last accessed November 2021. 
  11. Shacher SS, Hurria A, Muss HB. Breast Cancer in Women Older Than 80 Years. JCO Oncology Practice. 2016 Feb;12(2):123-132
  12. Redig AJ and McAllister SS. Breast cancer as a systemic disease: a view of metastasis. J Intern Med. 2013 Aug; 274(2): 113–126.
  13. Breastcancer.org. Metastatic Breast Cancer. Available at: https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/recur_metast. Last accessed November 2021.
  14. Irvin W, Muss HB, and Mayer DK. Symptom Management in Metastatic Breast Cancer. Oncologist. 2011 Sep; 16(9): 1203–1214.
  15. Breast cancer now. Secondary Breast Cancer Symptoms. Available at: https://breastcancernow.org/information-support/facing-breast-cancer/secondary-metastatic-breast-cancer/secondary-breast-cancer-symptoms. Last accessed November 2021.