There is good news in the fight against breast cancer. The odds of surviving the disease have been improving... And a new study is pointing to why.
In 2003 a small growth was found in Sandy Sanchez's breast.
"It was actually stage zero and it was a calcified lesion, so i didn't feel anything on the surface, but it was definitely there," says Sandy.
Finding the cancer early - and at a stage where the cancer was barely a lump - was good news for Sandy.
"Right now I'm cancer free and I'm a breast cancer survivor," adds Sandy.
Like sandy, more and more women are surviving breast cancer today. New research shows the odds of surviving are getting better - not only because of better treatments - but because women's tumors are being discovered smaller - and earlier.
"We found that the size of newly diagnosed breast cancers has decreased considerably over time. And the average breast tumor diagnosed today is smaller than it was 25 years ago." says Dr. Elena Elkin, the study author.
Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering concluded that smaller tumor size accounted for 61 percent of the improvement in survival when cancer had not spread from the breast, and 28 percent when it had spread a little. While the study wasn't designed to answer why breast tumors are being discovered smaller - the study implies much about the value of early detection.
"The shift in tumor size is most likely attributable to the increasing use of screening mammography, which is able to pick up smaller tumors," adds Dr. Elkin.
This study is the largest of its kind, using a federal database that includes nine cancer registries. While the study data is purely statistical, the message is clear.
"What this study goes a step towards helping us understand the benefits we've seen from things like screening and from things like treatment."
"I can foresee me living a good quality life, because I did what I had to do when it happened," says Sandy Sanchez.