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Looking Long Term

Conquest - Fall 2008

Breast cancer patients and their physicians may make more informed, long-term treatment decisions using risk assessment strategies to help determine probability of recurrence, according to a research team led by M. D. Anderson scientists.

The results of a study led by Abenaa Brewster, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, will help better determine the risk of breast cancer recurrence for some women.

The 2,838 women studied were diagnosed with stage I-III breast cancers and had been treated between 1985 and 2001 with adjuvant systemic therapy, such as chemotherapy and/or tamoxifen, and were in the M. D. Anderson Tumor Registry. They also were five years past the start of this therapy and were cancer-free. 

Researchers calculated the residual or remaining risk of recurrence using the benchmark of five years from the start of AST. They also determined the factors that contributed to a higher residual risk of recurrence.

“Understandably, one of the most common questions posed by breast cancer survivors is ‘What are the chances of it coming back?’” says the study’s lead author, Abenaa Brewster, M.D., assistant professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention. “Now we can tell some women within a certain percentage their future risk of recurrence and clinicians may be able to make more informed decisions regarding prescription of extended adjuvant endocrine therapy.”

Data analysis revealed that 89% of the study population didn’t experience a recurrence at five years (approximately 10 years after a woman’s initial diagnosis), and 80% didn’t experience a recurrence at 10 years (approximately 15 years after diagnosis).

While this is reassuring for most of the five-year survivors, the percentage of the population who had a recurrence is significant to oncologists, Brewster says.

“The magnitude of risk of recurrence should indicate a need for us to consider extended endocrine treatment for eligible women to further lower their risks,” she says.

Reported in the Aug. 12 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center