Background For several cancers, including those of the breast, young age at diagnosis is associated with an adverse prognosis. Although this effect is often attributed to heritable mutations such as BRCA1/2, the relationship between pathologic features, young age of onset, and prognosis for breast cancer remains unclear. In the present study, we highlight links between age of onset and lymph node metastasis (NM) in US women with breast cancer.
Methods Case listings from Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Result (SEER) 18 registry data for women with breast cancer, which include information on race, were used. NM and its associated outcomes were evaluated for a subset of women with receptor subtype information and then compared against a larger, pre-subtype validation set of data from the same registry. Age of diagnosis was a 5-category variable; under 40 years, 40-49 years, 50-59 years, 60-69 years and 70+ years. Univariate and adjusted multivariate survival models were applied to both sets of data.
Results As determined with adjusted logistic regression models, women under 40 years old at diagnosis had 1.55 times the odds of NM as women 60-69 years of age. The odds of NM for (HR = hormone receptor) HR+/HER2+, HR-/HER2+, and triple-negative breast cancer subtypes were significantly lower than those for HR+/HER2-. In subtype-stratified adjusted models, age of diagnosis had a consistent trend of decreasing odds of NM by age category, most noticeable for HR+ subtypes of luminal A and B. Univariate 5-year survival by age was worst for women under 40 years, with NM attributable for 49% of the hazard of death from cancer in adjusted multivariate models.
Conclusions Lymph node metastasis is age-dependent, yet not all molecular subtypes are clearly affected by this relationship. For <40-yr-old women, NM is a major cause for shorter survival. When stratified by subtype, the strongest associations were in HR+ groups, suggesting a possible hormonal connection between young age of breast cancer onset and NM.