Purpose: Previous research has suggested that young age at diagnosis is an independent risk factor for breast cancer recurrence and death. No prior studies have adequately controlled for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status or anti-HER2 treatment. We sought to evaluate whether age was a prognostic or predictive factor in the HERA trial.
Patients and methods: We used 2-year median follow-up data and dichotomized age at 40 years to evaluate its prognostic effect on outcomes for women assigned to trastuzumab for 1 year or observation.
Results: Of the 1,703 women randomly assigned to 1 year of trastuzumab and 1,698 to observation, 722 (21%) were age ≤ 40 years at study entry. In separate Cox models, controlling for relevant prognostic and predictive factors, disease-free (DFS) and overall survival (OS) hazard ratios (HRs) were consistent for women age ≤ 40 versus > 40 years, regardless of treatment assignment (observation group: DFS HR age ≤ 40 v > 40 years, 1.18; 95% CI, 0.90 to 1.54; OS HR age ≤ 40 v > 40 years, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.60 to 1.69; trastuzumab group: DFS HR age ≤ 40 v > 40 years, 1.11; 95% CI, 0.81 to 1.51; OS HR age ≤ 40 v > 40 years, 1.18; 95% CI, 0.66 to 2.09). Interaction between age group and treatment effect was not statistically significant (DFS P = .89; OS P = .55).
Conclusion: In a retrospective analysis of a large randomized controlled trial of women with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer, age was not strongly associated with risk of early recurrence or prediction of benefit from trastuzumab therapy. Future research should investigate whether age is a predictor of later recurrence and evaluate the impact of age within groups with other tumor subtypes.