Young Breast Cancer Patients Respond Better

Breast cancer neoadjuvant chemotherapy tends to be more successful in young women than in older women

(RxWiki News) Breast cancer is rare in young women under the age of 35. Unfortunately, it’s generally more aggressive in these women. The good news is that youth has its advantages in fighting breast cancer.

Breast cancer patients under the age of 35 are more likely to respond better to chemotherapy than older women. Triple-negative breast cancers have the best responses, a new study finds.

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Sibylle Loibl, MD, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, led the study that looked at nearly 9,000 breast cancer patients.

Dr. Loibl says that the prognosis for young breast cancer patients is generally worse than that of older women. “This is not only because their tumors tend to be more aggressive, but because breast tumors that arise in women who are young seem to be a special biological entity,” Dr. Loibl said in a press release.

The women in the study had breast cancer that could be surgically removed and had not spread. They were all treated with neoadjuvant (before surgery) chemotherapy.

Researchers looked at the pathological complete response (absence of residual disease) following the chemotherapy and disease-free survival in 704 women who were 35 years old and younger.

Compared to women older than 35, these women had less hormone receptor-positive disease, meaning their cancers were fed by hormones. The young women also had more triple-negative breast cancer, which is not driven by hormones or the protein HER2, than did the older women.

The study found that the young women had significantly higher pathological complete response rates (pCR) than older women, 23.6 vs. 15.7 percent. This benefit was seen primarily in women with triple-negative breast cancer.

Researchers also found:

  • Age didn’t impact disease-free survival among those who achieved pCR. However, disease survival was worse for young women who didn’t achieve pCR.
  • pCR didn’t predict disease-free survival in women with hormone-driven cancers, but age did.
  • The younger women with hormone-driven cancers, who did not have pCR from chemotherapy, had the worse disease-free survival.
  • Young women who achieved pCR had the best disease-free survival.

The researchers concluded, “Very young women are more likely to achieve a pCR after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. This effect is driven mainly by triple negative BC, which is more common in the very young."

Findings from this study were presented on December 6 at the 2012 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. All research is considered preliminary before it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Review Date: 
December 5, 2012