Common form of breast cancer may return even 20 years later, study finds

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Hormone-positive breast cancers can “smolder,” says oncologist

(Judy Silverman and Maggie Fox/ NBC News)— Breast cancer can “smolder” and return even 20 years later unless patients keep taking drugs to suppress it, researchers reported Wednesday.

They were looking for evidence that at least some breast cancer survivors might be able to skip the pills that reduce the risk of the breast tumors coming back, but found that even women with “low-risk” cancers had a small rate of recurrence 15 and 20 years later.

This means women with the most common type of breast cancer, called estrogen-positive or hormone-positive breast cancer, need to think carefully about whether they want to stop taking the pills, even if they cause side-effects, doctors said.

“These breast cancers have a lingering smoldering quality and carry substantial risk of late recurrence after five years of therapy,” said Dr. Harold Burstein of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, who was not involved in the study.

“Many patients think. ‘OK, I made it to five years. I know I’m safe’,” said Dr. Jennifer Litton, an oncologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But for estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, it’s a continued lifelong risk.” (…)

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