Is surgical management compromised in elderly patients with breast cancer?

Academic Article


  • Objective: The suggestion that breast cancer management is compromised in elderly patients had prompted our review of the results of policies regarding screening and early detection of breast cancer and the adequacy of primary treatment in older women (≤65 years of age) compared to younger women (40 to 64 years of age). Summary Background Data: Although breast cancer in elderly patients is considered biologically less aggressive than similar staged cancer in younger counterparts, outcome still is a matter of stage and adequate treatment of primary cancer. For many reasons, physicians appear reluctant to treat elderly patients according to the same standards used for younger patients. There is even government-mandated alterations in early detection programs. Thus, since 1993, Medicare has mandated screening mammography on a biennial basis for women older than 65 years of age compared to the current accepted standard of yearly mammograms for women older than 50 years of age. Using State Health Department and tumor registry data, the authors reviewed screening practice and management of elderly patients with primary breast cancer to determine the effects of age on screening, detection policies (as reflected in stage at diagnosis), treatment strategies, and outcome. Methods: Data were analyzed from 5962 patients with breast cancer recorded in the state-wide Tumor Registry of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island between 1987 and 1995. The focus of the data collection was nine institutions with established tumor registries using AJCC classified tumor data. Additional data were provided by the State Health Department on screening mammography practice in 2536 women during the years 1987, 1989, and 1995. Results: The frequency of mammographic screening for all averaged 40% in 1987, 52% in 1987, and 63% in 1995. In the 65-year-old and older patients, the frequency of screening was 34% in 1987, 45% in 1989, and 48% in 1995, whereas in the 40- to 49-year-old age group, the frequency of mammography was 47% in 1987, 61% in 1989, and 74% in 1995 (p < 0.001). There was a lower detection rate of preinvasive cancer in the 65-year-old and older patients, 8.8% versus 13.7% in patients within the 40- to 64-year-old age group (p < 0.001). There was a higher percentage of treatment by limited surgery among elderly patients with highly curable Stage IA and IB cancer with 26.6% having lumpectomy alone versus 9.4% in the younger patients. Five-year survival in that group was significantly worse (63%) than in patients treated by mastectomy (80%) or lumpectomy with axillary dissection and radiation (95%, p < 0.001). A similar effect was seen in patients with Stage II cancer. Conclusions: Breast cancer management appears compromised in elderly patients (older than 65 years of age). Frequency of mammography screening is significantly less in elderly women older than 65 years of age. Early detection of preinvasive (curative cancers) is significantly less than in younger patients. The recent requirement by Medicare of mammography every other year may further reduce the opportunity to detect potentially curable cancers. Approximately 20% of patients had inferior treatment of favorable stage early primary cancer with worsened survival. Detection and treatment strategy changes are needed to remedy these deficiencies.
  • Published In

  • Annals of Surgery  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Wanebo HJ; Cole B; Chung M; Vezeridls M; Schepps B; Fulton J; Bland K
  • Start Page

  • 579
  • End Page

  • 589
  • Volume

  • 225
  • Issue

  • 5