Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Breast Cancer Research and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Cardiovascular disease competes with breast cancer as the leading cause of death for older females diagnosed with breast cancer: a retrospective cohort study

Jennifer L Patnaik1*, Tim Byers1, Carolyn DiGuiseppi1, Dana Dabelea1 and Thomas D Denberg2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Denver, 13001 E. 17th Place, Aurora, CO 80045, USA

2 Department of Quality and Patient Safety, Atrius Health and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, 275 Grove Street, Newton, MA 02466, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Breast Cancer Research 2011, 13:R64  doi:10.1186/bcr2901

Published: 20 June 2011

Abstract

Introduction

Many women who survive breast cancer die of causes unrelated to their cancer diagnosis. This study was undertaken to assess factors that are related to breast cancer mortality versus mortality from other causes and to describe the leading causes of death among older women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Methods

Women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 66 or older between 1992 and 2000 were identified in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results-Medicare linked database and followed through the end of 2005.

Results

A total of 63,566 women diagnosed with breast cancer met the inclusion criteria and were followed for a median of approximately nine years. Almost one-half (48.7%) were alive at the end of follow-up. Ages and comorbidities at the time of diagnosis had the largest effects on mortality from other causes, while tumor stage, tumor grade, estrogen receptor status, age and comorbidities at the time of diagnosis all had effects on breast cancer-specific mortality. Fully adjusted relative hazards of the effects of comorbidities on breast cancer-specific mortality were 1.24 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.13 to 1.26) for cardiovascular disease, 1.13 (95% CI 1.13 to 1.26) for previous cancer, 1.13 (95% CI 1.05 to 1.22) for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 1.10 (95% CI 1.03 to 1.16) for diabetes. Among the total study population, cardiovascular disease was the primary cause of death in the study population (15.9% (95% CI 15.6 to 16.2)), followed closely by breast cancer (15.1% (95% CI 14.8 to 15.4)).

Conclusions

Comorbid conditions contribute importantly to both total mortality and breast cancer-specific mortality among breast cancer survivors. Attention to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease should be a priority for the long-term care of women following the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.