Background: This study is a retrospective evaluation of the efficacy of neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NC) with a vinorelbine (V) and epirubicin (E) intravenous combination regimen and is aimed at identification of predictive markers for the long-term outcome in noninflammatory locally advanced breast cancer (NLABC).
Methods: One-hundred-and-nineteen patients with NLABC were identified from September 2001 to May 2006. Analysis was performed in March 2008, with a median follow-up of 63.4 months (range, 9-76 months). All patients were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer using 14 G core needle biopsy and treated with three cycles of VE before surgery. Local-regional radiotherapy was offered to all patients after the completion of chemotherapy followed by hormonal therapy according to hormone receptor status. Tissue sections cut from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded blocks from biopsy specimens and postoperative tumor tissues were stained for the presence of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PgR), HER-2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor-2), and MIB-1(Ki-67).
Results: Patients characteristics were median age 52 years (range: 25-70 years); clinical TNM stage, stage IIB (n = 32), stage IIIA (n = 56), stage IIIB (n = 22) and stage IIIC (n = 9). All patients were evaluable for response: clinically complete response was documented in 27 patients (22.7%); 78 (65.6%) obtained partial response; stable disease was observed in 13 (10.9%); 1 patient (0.8%) had progressive disease. Pathological complete response was found in 22 cases (18.5%). Seventy-five patients were alive with no recurrence after a median follow-up of 63.4 months, the 5-year rates for disease-free survival and overall survival were 58.7% and 71.3%, respectively, after the start of NC. On multivariate analysis, the independent variables associated with increased risk of relapse and death were high pre-Ki-67(p = 0.012, p = 0.017, respectively), high post-Ki-67 expression (p = 0.045, p = 0.001, respectively), and non-pCR (p = 0.034, p = 0.027, respectively). A significantly increased risk of death was associated with lack of pre-ER expression (p = 0.002). Among patients with non-pCR, those with a pathological response at the tumor site with special involvement (i.e. skin, vessel and more than one quadrant) were at a higher risk of disease relapse and death (p < 0.001, p = 0.001, respectively).
Conclusion: This study suggests the promising use of a VE regimen as NC for Chinese NLABC after a median follow-up of 63.4 months. Pathological response in the tumor site, pre-Ki-67 and post-Ki-67 expression, and pre-ER expression were the important variables that predicted long-term outcome. Patients with pathological special involvement at the primary site after NC had the lowest survival rates.