Breast Cancer Patients Denied the Privilege of Age

Breast cancer deaths increase with age

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The risk of developing breast cancer increases as a woman ages. The risk of breast cancer returning also increases with age. And increasing age also increases the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer are more likely to succumb to the disease as they get older, according to a recently published study. These findings point out the need for age-specific treatment plans.

"Make sure you're receiving the best care possible."

Researchers, led by Willemien van de Water, M.D., of the Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands, examined the how often breast cancer was the cause of death among various age groups of women who were diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, the most common form of the disease.

As background, the authors note that nearly 1.4 million new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed around the world in 2008. In that same year, women who were 65 or older accounted for 41 percent of breast cancers diagnosed in the United States.

For the study, researcher analyzed the records of  9,766 patients enrolled in the TEAM (Tamoxifen Exemestane Adjuvant Multinational) clinical trial between January 2001 and January 2006.

Women were assigned to three groups based on their age at diagnosis - younger than 65-74 and 75 years or older.

At the 5-year follow-up, a total of 1,043 deaths had occurred.  Breast cancer as the cause of death was seen in 5.7 percent of women under the age of 65; 6.3 percent in women aged 65-74; and 8.3 percent in women 75 years or older.

"Historically, breast cancer specialists have viewed the disease in older patients as being more indolent (slow growing) than in younger women, on the whole," breast cancer specialist, Patrick Maguire, M.D., tells dailyRx.

"Patient age and overall condition may heavily influence doctors' recommendations about how aggressive to be with treatment," explained Dr. Maguire, who is a radiation oncologist in North Carolina and author of When Cancer Hits Home: An Empowered Patient is the Best Weapon Against Cancer.

"In this study, for instance, older patients received less radiation and chemotherapy than their younger counterparts. It's possible that some of these older patients would have fared better with more aggressive treatment. The results of this important analysis from van de Water and colleagues should inform the design of future 'age-specific breast cancer studies,'" Dr. Maguire concluded.

The authors write, "Moreover, future detailed population-based and translational studies may increase insight into causal factors of higher disease-specific mortality and breast cancer relapse with increasing age," the researchers write."

This research was published in the February 8, 2012 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).

Seven of the 15 authors disclosed financial relationships with drug manufacturers including Pfizer. Some of these authors also reported being the recipients of institutional grants.

The TEAM (Tamoxifen Exemestane Adjuvant Multinational) trial was supported by an unrestricted grant from Pfizer, the manufacturer of Aromasin (exemestane).

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 7, 2012
Last Updated:
February 8, 2012