Purpose: To assess the impact of young age on outcome in women with early stage breast cancer undergoing conservative surgery and radiation.
Methods and materials: Between 1981 and 1991, 980 patients with Stage I and II breast cancer underwent excisional biopsy, axillary dissection, and radiation. The median follow-up was 4.6 years, with a range of 1 month to 11 years. The patients were divided into three groups, based on age at the time of diagnosis: (a) age < or = 35 years--64 patients, (b) age 36-50 years--363 patients, and (c) age > 50 years--553 patients. The comparability of the groups was assessed in terms of clinical factors (tumor size and race), histopathologic factors (histologic subtype, final resection margin, estrogen and progesterone receptor status, pathologic nodal status), and treatment related factors (reexcision, median total dose to the primary, region(s) treated with radiation, and the use of adjuvant systemic chemotherapy and/or tamoxifen). Outcome was evaluated for overall, relapse-free, and cause-specific survival and patterns of first failure (breast, regional nodes, and distant metastasis).
Results: There were no significant differences among the three groups in terms of race, clinical tumor size, pathology of the primary tumor, pathologic nodal status, final margin of resection, progesterone receptor status, median total dose to the primary tumor, or the regions treated. However, younger women were significantly more likely to have estrogen receptor negative tumors, undergo reexcision, and receive adjuvant systemic chemotherapy without tamoxifen. Younger women were found to have a statistically significantly decreased 8-year actuarial relapse-free survival (53% vs. 67% vs. 74%, p = 0.009), cause-specific survival (73% vs. 84% vs. 90%, p = 0.02), freedom from distant metastasis (76% vs. 75% vs. 83%, p = 0.02), and a significantly increased risk of breast recurrence (24% vs. 14% vs. 12%, p = 0.001), and regional node recurrence (7% vs. 1% vs. 1%, p = 0.0002). The patients were further divided on the basis of their pathologic nodal status. There were no statistically significant differences among the three age groups for axillary node-positive patients for overall survival (75% vs. 80% vs. 74%), relapse-free survival (73% vs. 73% vs. 62%), cause-specific survival (76% vs. 85% vs. 80%), and freedom from distant metastasis (75% vs. 75% vs. 72%), or breast recurrence (0% vs. 9% vs. 6%). The findings were identical when the analysis was restricted to node-positive patients who received chemotherapy. However, for axillary node-negative women, young age was associated with a statistically significant decreased overall survival (71% vs. 83% vs. 92%), relapse-free survival (51% vs. 65% vs. 76%), cause-specific survival (71% vs. 86% vs. 93%), freedom from distant metastasis (77% vs. 76% vs. 88%), and a statistically significant increased risk of breast recurrence (40% vs. 16% vs. 13%), and regional node recurrence (3% vs. 1% vs. 0%). The risk of a breast recurrence in axillary node-negative young women was decreased by the addition of adjuvant systemic chemotherapy but not by the use of reexcision.
Conclusions: The present analysis demonstrates that young women with early stage breast cancer do significantly worse when compared to older women in terms of relapse-free survival, cause-specific survival, distant metastasis and breast and regional node recurrence. However, the adverse effect of young age on outcome appears to be limited to the node-negative patients. These findings suggest that node-negative early stage breast cancer in young women is a more aggressive disease, with an increased risk for all patterns of failure and a decreased survival.