Older Women with Breast Cancer Survive Better with Treatment Therapy

January 2, 2016
Priyam Vora
Priyam Vora

Women over 65 years of age with early-stage, fast-spreading breast cancer had better chances of surviving if they endured treatment therapy, according to a new study.

Women over 65 years of age with early-stage, fast-spreading breast cancer had better chances of surviving if they endured treatment therapy, according to a new study.

Older women, including those who additional minor health problems, should undergo aggressive chemotherapy cancer treatments because these treatments will not only cure them, but also prevent the cancer from returning, according to researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute.

Gretchen Kimmick, MD, MS, an associate professor of medicine at Duke and the lead author of the study said that using chemotherapy for older women has always sparked controversy. Some resist the treatment because it is potentially toxic and too aggressive.

“However, this predictive model shows patients that they are going to survive long enough to see the benefit of treatment,” Dr Kimmick said.

Researchers assisting Dr Kimmick on the study included Brandelyn Pitcher, Jeanne Mandelblatt, Jonathan Clapp, Karla Ballman, Myra Barginear, Rachel Freedman, Andrew Artz, Heidi Klepin, Jacqueline Lafky, Judith Hopkins, Eric Winer, Clifford Hudis, Hyman Muss, Harvey Cohen, Aminah Jatoi and Arti Hurria.

The authors registered 2 groups of women aged 65 years and older for the trial—one group underwent chemotherapy treatment devised to prevent cancer recurrence and one group did not undergo the treatment. They used data from breast cancer studies in the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology initiative funded by the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers then compared the daily routine between the 2 groups of women to evaluate the treatment and the quality-of-life issues. They traced their survival rates over a period of two years. They also considered their age and ability to perform daily tasks such as bathing and grocery shopping. This data was also fed into a popular online program called ePrognosis, a device used to measure the treatments against the individual’s potential lifespan.

The results were as follows:

  • The research and the ePrognosis tool both projected a 95% 2-year survival rate for breast cancer patients with good overall function.
  • However, for breast cancer patients with a poorer overall function, the research predicted a 94% two-year survival rate vs. the tool’s 88%.
  • Furthermore, for older breast cancer patients with poorer score, the tool predicted a 64% two-year survival rate. However the research projected an 81% survival rate over two years.

Dr Kimmick said that with further research, they would be able to predict 5- and 10-year mortality risks. However, this study provides enough evidence to insist on getting cancer treatments for older women.

Doctors and researchers insist that prevention of cancer recurrence is as important, if not more, than treatment of cancer. Especially for older women, if the cancer relapses, the survival rate drops drastically and the quality of life worsens.

“Doctors and patients both need to understand the risks of cancer recurrence vs. chemotherapy and its side effects,” Dr Kimmick added. While it is important to note the risks of chemotherapy, it is equally important to consider the benefits of using the therapy to prevent cancer recurrence.