Background: We assessed the prognostic significance of the presence of micrometastasis in the bone marrow at the time of diagnosis of breast cancer by means of a pooled analysis.
Methods: We combined individual patient data from nine studies involving 4703 patients with stage I, II, or III breast cancer. We evaluated patient outcomes over a 10-year follow-up period (median, 5.2 years), using a multivariable piecewise Cox regression model.
Results: Micrometastasis was detected in 30.6 percent of the patients. As compared with women without bone marrow micrometastasis, patients with bone marrow micrometastasis had larger tumors and tumors with a higher histologic grade and more often had lymph-node metastases and hormone receptor-negative tumors (P<0.001 for all variables). The presence of micrometastasis was a significant prognostic factor with respect to poor overall survival and breast-cancer-specific survival (univariate mortality ratios, 2.15 and 2.44, respectively; P<0.001 for both outcomes) and poor disease-free survival and distant-disease-free survival during the 10-year observation period (incidence-rate ratios, 2.13 and 2.33, respectively; P<0.001 for both outcomes). In the multivariable analysis, micrometastasis was an independent predictor of a poor outcome. In the univariate subgroup analysis, breast-cancer-specific survival among patients with micrometastasis was significantly shortened (P<0.001 for all comparisons) among those receiving adjuvant endocrine treatment (mortality ratio, 3.22) or cytotoxic therapy (mortality ratio, 2.32) and among patients who had tumors no larger than 2 cm in diameter without lymph-node metastasis and who did not receive systemic adjuvant therapy (mortality ratio, 3.65).
Conclusions: The presence of micrometastasis in the bone marrow at the time of diagnosis of breast cancer is associated with a poor prognosis.
Copyright 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society.