Impact of Older Age and Comorbidity on Locoregional and Distant Breast Cancer Recurrence: A Large Population-Based Study

Oncologist. 2020 Jan;25(1):e24-e30. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2019-0412. Epub 2019 Sep 12.


Background: Studies have demonstrated worse breast cancer-specific mortality with older age, despite an increasing risk of dying from other causes due to comorbidity (competing mortality). However, findings on the association between older age and recurrence risk are inconsistent. The aim of this study was to assess incidences of locoregional and distant recurrence by age, taking competing mortality into account.

Materials and methods: Patients surgically treated for nonmetastasized breast cancer between 2003 and 2009 were selected from The Netherlands Cancer Registry. Cumulative incidences of recurrence were calculated considering death without distant recurrence as competing event. Fine and Gray analyses were performed to characterize the impact of age (70-74 [reference group], 75-79, and ≥80 years) on recurrence risk.

Results: A total of 18,419 patients were included. Nine-year cumulative incidences of locoregional recurrence were 2.5%, 3.1%, and 2.9% in patients aged 70-74, 75-79, and ≥80 years, and 9-year cumulative incidences of distant recurrence were 10.9%, 15.9%, and 12.7%, respectively. After adjustment for tumor and treatment characteristics, age was not associated with locoregional recurrence risk. For distant recurrence, patients aged 75-79 years remained at higher risk after adjustment for tumor and treatment characteristics (75-79 years subdistribution hazard ratio [sHR], 1.25; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.11-1.41; ≥80 years sHR, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.91-1.17).

Conclusion: Patients aged 75-79 years had a higher risk of distant recurrence than patients aged 70-74 years, despite the higher competing mortality. Individualizing treatment by using prediction tools that include competing mortality could improve outcome for older patients with breast cancer.

Implications for practice: In this population-based study of 18,419 surgically treated patients aged 70 years or older, patients aged 75-79 years were at higher risk of distant recurrence than were patients aged 70-74 years. This finding suggests that patients in this age category are undertreated. In contrast, it was also demonstrated that the risk of dying without a recurrence strongly increases with age, and patients with a high competing mortality risk are easily overtreated. To identify older patients who may benefit from more treatment, clinicians should therefore take competing mortality risk into account. Prediction tools could facilitate this and thereby improve treatment strategy.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Competing risk; Distant recurrence; Geriatric oncology; Locoregional recurrence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local