Scots breast cancer deaths down by 30%

Breast x-ray The improvement in survival is being attributed to better diagnosis

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Scotland has seen one of Europe's biggest falls in death rates from breast cancer, according to a new report in the British Medical Journal.

The number of deaths from the disease has dropped 30%, although the figure for England and Wales stood at 35%.

The review, led by France's International Prevention Research Institute, put the improvement down to quality care and speedier diagnosis.

The study contradicts claims the UK lags behind other European countries.

It showed that Scotland had the fourth biggest drop, with England and Wales third, with Northern Ireland fifth at 29%.

However, the UK figures did show survival rates for those in a host of eastern European countries, including Romania and Estonia, were better.

Researchers looked at the rate at which breast cancer was highlighted as a cause of death from 1987-9 and compared that to 2004-6, the British Medical Journal reported.

Factors such as drinking, obesity and the age at which a woman has children all influence the likelihood of breast cancer developing.

Since the 1980s, there have been a number of significant changes to breast cancer care, including the introduction of the screening programme in 1988 and, more recently, a host of waiting time targets.

According to statistics published in July by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, 800 Scottish women and 9,000 across the UK are affected by breast cancer each year.

Linda Milton, from Glasgow, who survived breast cancer ten years ago, said early diagnosis was very important for a successful outcome and urged women to go for screening.

She said: "In my case, although it was contained within the milk ducts at the time of diagnosis, by the time I had the operation, it had become invasive and was on the move.

"So, if that screening hadn't shown that up, I would have had to wait until it had outwardly manifested itself, in which case I would have been a lot further down the line."

'Later life'

Overall, the breast cancer mortality rate across the 30 countries fell by a fifth to 24 per 100,000 deaths.

Spain has the lowest rate at 18.9.

The UK, by comparison, fell from 41.6 to 28.2 - the equivalent to about 12,000 deaths each year.

Dr Julie Sharp, information manager at Cancer Research UK, said the figures reflected improvements such as early detection and screening - but she told BBC Radio Good Morning Scotland that awareness of risks could help some cases developing in the first place.

She said: "We know that breast cancer is linked to hormones, whether a woman has had a child or whether she has breast fed.

"There are other things that can actually have more of an effect, such as obesity in later life and physical exercise and alcohol. We know all these things are actually driving up the number of breast cancer sufferers in the UK."

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