Background: Pathological complete response has been proposed as a surrogate endpoint for prediction of long-term clinical benefit, such as disease-free survival, event-free survival (EFS), and overall survival (OS). We had four key objectives: to establish the association between pathological complete response and EFS and OS, to establish the definition of pathological complete response that correlates best with long-term outcome, to identify the breast cancer subtypes in which pathological complete response is best correlated with long-term outcome, and to assess whether an increase in frequency of pathological complete response between treatment groups predicts improved EFS and OS.
Methods: We searched PubMed, Embase, and Medline for clinical trials of neoadjuvant treatment of breast cancer. To be eligible, studies had to meet three inclusion criteria: include at least 200 patients with primary breast cancer treated with preoperative chemotherapy followed by surgery; have available data for pathological complete response, EFS, and OS; and have a median follow-up of at least 3 years. We compared the three most commonly used definitions of pathological complete response--ypT0 ypN0, ypT0/is ypN0, and ypT0/is--for their association with EFS and OS in a responder analysis. We assessed the association between pathological complete response and EFS and OS in various subgroups. Finally, we did a trial-level analysis to assess whether pathological complete response could be used as a surrogate endpoint for EFS or OS.
Findings: We obtained data from 12 identified international trials and 11 955 patients were included in our responder analysis. Eradication of tumour from both breast and lymph nodes (ypT0 ypN0 or ypT0/is ypN0) was better associated with improved EFS (ypT0 ypN0: hazard ratio [HR] 0·44, 95% CI 0·39-0·51; ypT0/is ypN0: 0·48, 0·43-0·54) and OS (0·36, 0·30-0·44; 0·36, 0·31-0·42) than was tumour eradication from the breast alone (ypT0/is; EFS: HR 0·60, 95% CI 0·55-0·66; OS 0·51, 0·45-0·58). We used the ypT0/is ypN0 definition for all subsequent analyses. The association between pathological complete response and long-term outcomes was strongest in patients with triple-negative breast cancer (EFS: HR 0·24, 95% CI 0·18-0·33; OS: 0·16, 0·11-0·25) and in those with HER2-positive, hormone-receptor-negative tumours who received trastuzumab (EFS: 0·15, 0·09-0·27; OS: 0·08, 0·03, 0·22). In the trial-level analysis, we recorded little association between increases in frequency of pathological complete response and EFS (R(2)=0·03, 95% CI 0·00-0·25) and OS (R(2)=0·24, 0·00-0·70).
Interpretation: Patients who attain pathological complete response defined as ypT0 ypN0 or ypT0/is ypN0 have improved survival. The prognostic value is greatest in aggressive tumour subtypes. Our pooled analysis could not validate pathological complete response as a surrogate endpoint for improved EFS and OS.
Funding: US Food and Drug Administration.
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