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More than one in five breast cancer patients (22.6%) will have recurrence of the disease, according to a research report out today.
A groundbreaking study from Macmillan Cancer Support puts a number - for the first time - on how many breast cancer patients may see the condition return.
A spokeswoman for the charity said that before this research, data was only available on diagnosis and survival of breast cancer.
The preliminary results also showed that half of those patients (51%) who developed recurrent disease lived for more than three years disease-free, and on average survived for at least one year after their recurrence, with some surviving (5%) at least 10 years.
The research is to be presented at the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) conference in Birmingham from June 14 to June 16.
Dr Adam Glaser, one of the study's principal investigators at St James's Institute of Oncology, Leeds, said:
''The aim of this study is to begin to understand more about how long people may survive without recurrence, how long they may survive if cancer does return, the cost of each stage of cancer treatment and how we can best plan services for cancer patients.
''These findings are invaluable in helping us understand just how many breast cancer patients are experiencing cancer for the first or second time.''
Jane Maher, chief medical officer of Macmillan Cancer Support, said:
''Not only do these women have to deal with the shock of their breast cancer returning, but also far too many are given very little practical or emotional support, the assumption being they know what to expect from the first time they were treated.
''It is therefore essential that health professionals identify breast cancer recurrence early and take heed of this emerging evidence to better prepare breast cancer patients to help mitigate or cope with a recurrent disease.
''Macmillan secondary breast cancer nurses do just that, we need to see this as a priority across the NHS.''
Shonagh Eastwell, 40, from Aldershot, Hampshire, who was supported by Jane Watts, a Macmillan secondary breast cancer nurse specialist through her secondary breast cancer treatment, said:
''I was devastated when I realised I had secondary breast cancer.
''I thought 'no-one is this unlucky'. When I was introduced to Jane from Macmillan I was in shock. It hit me so much harder than the first time.
''She was fantastic and really understood how different it was for me this time round and how much more support I needed than when I was first diagnosed. I couldn't have done it without her.''
For more information about Macmillan, people can visit www.macmillan.org.uk or call 0808 808 00 00.