NIHR | October 2020 |Breast cancer surgery is safer for older women than has been assumed
Between 2013-2018 over 3000 women aged 70 or over with operable breast cancer were recruited to a NIHR- funded cohort study. The majority (83.4 %) of the women underwent surgery; with researchers tracking their progress for two years. One of the study’s key findings is that no deaths were attributable to surgery for breast cancer. According to the authors of the study, this suggests that surgery for breast cancer in women in this age group is perhaps safer than thought.
This study is part of a wider- Bridging the Age Gaps in Breast Cancer- project which aims to examine the characteristics and outcomes (survival, quality of life and adverse events) of women aged at least 70 years in the UK undergoing surgery for breast cancer.
- Fewer than one in five women (19.3%) had an adverse outcome, such as a dangerous blood clot (DVT) or wound pain.
- a woman’s age predicted what surgery she would receive. The oldest women in the group were twice as likely to have a mastectomy than the youngest women (59.1% vs 29.9%). Younger women were more likely to have breast-conserving surgery, with less breast tissue removed. This may relate to the lack of screening in older women, so cancers tend to be found when they are bigger and women feel a lump.
- older women were less likely to have lymph glands under the armpit removed (axillary surgery) than younger women (91.4% vs 98.6%). The aim of axillary surgery is to find out if the cancer has spread, and to remove any cancer in the axilla.
- just 2.8% of the women in this study who had a mastectomy went on to have reconstructive sugery. This compares to one in five (20%) women overall in the UK.
- quality of life was lower after surgery particularly for those who had more breast tissue removed as in mastectomy.
- the risk of being unable to carry out some standard day to day tasks was higher after surgery.
Morgan, J. L., George, J., Holmes, G., Martin, C., Reed, M. W., Ward, S., … & Wyld, L. (2020). Breast cancer surgery in older women: outcomes of the Bridging Age Gap in Breast Cancer study. British Journal of Surgery.
Breast cancer surgery in older women is variable and sometimes non‐standard owing to concerns about morbidity. Bridging the Age Gap in Breast Cancer is a prospective multicentre cohort study aiming to determine factors influencing treatment selection and outcomes from surgery for older patients with breast cancer.
Women aged at least 70 years with operable breast cancer were recruited from 57 UK breast units between 2013 and 2018. Associations between patient and tumour characteristics and type of surgery in the breast and axilla were evaluated using univariable and multivariable analyses. Oncological outcomes, adverse events and quality‐of‐life (QoL) outcomes were monitored for 2 years.
Among 3375 women recruited, surgery was performed in 2816 patients, of whom 24 with inadequate data were excluded. Sixty‐two women had bilateral tumours, giving a total of 2854 surgical events. Median age was 76 (range 70–95) years. Breast surgery comprised mastectomy in 1138 and breast‐conserving surgery in 1716 procedures. Axillary surgery comprised axillary lymph node dissection in 575 and sentinel node biopsy in 2203; 76 had no axillary surgery. Age, frailty, dementia and co‐morbidities were predictors of mastectomy. Age, frailty and co‐morbidity were significant predictors of no axillary surgery. The rate of adverse events was moderate, with no 30‐day mortality. Long‐term QoL and functional independence were adversely affected by surgery.
Breast cancer surgery is safe in women aged 70 years or more, with serious adverse events being rare and no mortality. Age, ill health and frailty all influence surgical decision‐making. Surgery has a negative impact on QoL and independence, which must be considered when counselling patients about choices.
Further information on the project is available from the University of Sheffield’s Medical School Bridging the Age Gap in Breast Cancer