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Treatment Lowers Breast Cancer Recurrence

Breast cancer patients who received adjuvant systemic therapy (AST) after breast surgery have a relatively low risk of disease recurrence, but the chance of the cancer returning is still significant to oncologists seeking better treatments.

The findings were reported from an MD Anderson study published in the Aug. 12 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Significance of results

"Most women want to know what the odds are of their cancer returning,” says the study's lead author, Abenaa Brewster, M.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson's Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention. "After this study, we can tell some women the percentage of their risk of recurrence. Also, it will help physicians make more informed decisions when they are considering AST."

AST, which includes hormone therapy and chemotherapy, is taken by mouth or injected into the bloodstream so that it can kill cancer cells throughout the body.

Few studies have looked at the level of late cancer recurrence in patients who receive AST and are five-year breast cancer survivors, but it is an important factor to women.

Research methods

Researchers analyzed 2,838 women who were treated for breast cancer at MD Anderson between 1985 and 2001.

The women were:

  • Diagnosed with stage I-III breast cancers
  • Treated with AST for five years
  • Currently cancer-free

Primary results

Data analysis revealed a high percentage of women were cancer-free years after treatment.

This included:

  • 89% of the women 10 years after diagnosis
  • 80% of the women 15 years after diagnosis

Median follow-up time after AST was 28 months. During that period, 216 of the women had recurrences.

The rates of recurrence 10 years after diagnosis were:

  • 7% for stage I cancer
  • 11% for stage II cancer
  • 13% for stage III

Women with stage II or III cancer and grade I tumors had a higher risk of recurrence.

Additional results

While the figures are reassuring for many breast cancer survivors treated with AST, the percentage of women whose cancer recurred is significant to physicians.

“The risk of recurrence may indicate a need to consider extended treatment to further lower the risks for some women,” Brewster says.

The study did not include women who received AST with Herceptin® (trastuzumab) or aromatase inhibitor treatment.

What’s next?

Extended hormone treatment with Femara® (letrozole) is available only for post-menopausal women with hormone receptor positive tumors who have completed five years of tamoxifen therapy.

This study showed the need for continued development of risk-reduction strategies for pre-menopausal breast cancer survivors because of lack of available therapies in this younger age group.

— Adapted by Dawn Dorsey from an MD Anderson news release

MD Anderson resources:

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center