Intended for healthcare professionals


Reduction in mortality from breast cancer

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 28 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1025

Reasons for improved survival are more complex than suggested

  1. Graeme W Morgan, director (gmorgan1{at}
  1. Radiation Oncology, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, NSW 2065, Australia

    EDITOR—Although no supporting data are given, Jones in her editorial proposes that adjuvant treatments with chemotherapy or hormones are more likely than screening to be responsible for reduction in breast cancer mortality.1 However, the reason(s) for the improved survival is much more complex than suggested.

    In the 1970s surgeons felt they “owned” the patient and were usually the only ones who decided which women had anything other than surgery. Nowadays it is accepted that overall management is best decided by a multidisciplinary team and that several people—medical and non-medical—have a crucial role in the management. This very basic change in the overall management of breast and other cancers has been overlooked in the rush to promote the use of adjuvant chemotherapy, although its benefit has been very much over-rated.1

    Additionally the editorial does not give due credit to radiotherapy—there is now evidence that its omission after mastectomy even after chemotherapy or hormones leads to unacceptable local relapse2 and that there is an excess mortality (or loss of survival benefit) of 8.6% for women who do not receive radiotherapy after breast conserving surgery.3 As well as the “medical” treatments, much has been accomplished by paramedical services such as psycho-oncology, although the effect is more difficult to quantify.


    • Competing interests None declared


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