Context: Breast cancer estrogen-receptor (ER) status is useful in predicting benefit from endocrine therapy. It may also help predict which patients benefit from advances in adjuvant chemotherapy.
Objective: To compare differences in benefits from adjuvant chemotherapy achieved by patients with ER-negative vs ER-positive tumors.
Design, setting, and patients: Trial data from the Cancer and Leukemia Group B and US Breast Cancer Intergroup analyzed; patient outcomes by ER status compared using hazards over time and multivariate models. Randomized trials comparing (1): 3 regimens of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and fluorouracil (January 1985 to April 1991); (2) 3 doses of doxorubicin concurrent with cyclophosphamide, with or without subsequent paclitaxel (May 1994 to April 1997); (3) sequential doxorubicin, paclitaxel, and cyclophosphamide with concurrent doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide followed by paclitaxel, and also 3-week vs 2-week cycles (September 1997 to March 1999). A total of 6644 node-positive breast cancer patients received adjuvant treatment.
Main outcome measures: Disease-free and overall survival.
Results: For ER-negative tumors, chemotherapy improvements reduced the relative risk of recurrence by 21%, 25%, and 23% in the 3 studies, respectively, and 55% comparing the lowest dose in the first study with biweekly cycles in the third study. Corresponding relative risk reductions for ER-positive tumors treated with tamoxifen were 9%, 12%, and 8% in the 3 studies, and 26% overall. The overall mortality rate reductions associated with chemotherapy improvements were 55% and 23% among ER-negative and ER-positive patients, respectively. All individual ER-negative comparisons and no ER-positive comparisons were statistically significant. Absolute benefits due to chemotherapy were greater for patients with ER-negative compared with ER-positive tumors: 22.8% more ER-negative patients survived to 5 years disease-free if receiving chemotherapy vs 7.0% for ER-positive patients; corresponding improvements for overall survival were 16.7% vs 4.0%.
Conclusion: Among patients with node-positive tumors, ER-negative breast cancer, biweekly doxorubicin/cyclophosphamide plus paclitaxel lowers the rate of recurrence and death by more than 50% in comparison with low-dose cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and fluorouracil as used in the first study.