JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Surgery versus primary endocrine therapy for operable primary breast cancer in elderly women (70 years plus)

D Hind, L Wyld, C B Beverley, M W Reed
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006 January 25, (1): CD004272
16437480

BACKGROUND: Several studies have evaluated the clinical effectiveness of endocrine therapy alone in women aged 70 years or over and who are fit for surgery.

OBJECTIVES: To identify and review the evidence from randomised trials comparing primary endocrine therapy (endocrine therapy alone) to surgery, with or without adjuvant endocrine therapy, in the management of women aged 70 years or over with operable breast cancer.

SEARCH STRATEGY: The Cochrane Breast Cancer Group Specialised Register was searched on 21st August 2003 using the codes for "early breast cancer", "endocrine therapy", "psychosocial" or "surgery". Details of the search strategy applied to create the register and the procedure used to code references are described in the Cochrane Breast Cancer Group module on The Cochrane Library.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials comparing primary endocrine therapy with surgery, with or without adjuvant endocrine therapy, in the management of women aged 70 years or over with early breast cancer and who are fit for surgery.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Studies were assessed for eligibility and quality, and data from published trials were extracted by two independent reviewers. Hazard ratios were derived for time-to-event outcomes, where possible, and a fixed-effect model was used for meta-analysis. Toxicity and quality-of-life data were extracted, where present. Where outcome data were not available, trialists were contacted and unpublished data requested.

MAIN RESULTS: Seven eligible trials were identified of which six had published time-to-event data and one was published only in abstract form with no usable data. The quality of the allocation concealment was adequate in three studies and unclear in the remainder. In each case the endocrine therapy used was tamoxifen.Data, based on an estimated 869 deaths in 1571 women, were unable to show a statistically significant difference in favour of either surgery or primary endocrine therapy in respect of overall survival. However, there was a statistically significant difference in terms of progression-free survival, which favoured surgery with or without endocrine therapy.The hazard ratios (HR) for overall survival were: 0.98 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.74 to 1.30, P value 0.9) for surgery alone versus primary endocrine therapy; 0.86 (95% CI 0.73 to 1.00, P value 0.06) for surgery plus endocrine therapy versus primary endocrine therapy. The HRs for progression-free survival were: 0.55 (95% CI 0.39 to 0.77, P value 0.0006) for surgery alone versus primary endocrine therapy; 0.65 (95% CI 0.53 to 0.81, P value 0.0001) for surgery plus endocrine therapy versus primary endocrine therapy (each comparison based on only one trial). Tamoxifen-related adverse effects included hot flushes, skin rash, vaginal discharge, indigestion, breast pain, sleepiness, headache, vertigo, itching, hair loss, cystitis, acute thrombophlebitis, nausea, and indigestion. Surgery-related adverse effects included paresthesia on the ipsilateral arm and lateral thoracic wall in those who had axillary clearance. One study suggested that those undergoing surgery suffered more psychosocial morbidity at three months postsurgery, although this difference had disappeared by two years.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Primary endocrine therapy should only be offered to women with oestrogen receptor (ER) positive tumours who are unfit for or who refuse surgery. In a cohort of women with significant co-morbid disease and ER-positive tumours it is possible that primary endocrine therapy may be a superior option to surgery. Trials are needed to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of aromatase inhibitors as primary therapy for an infirm older population with ER-positive tumours.

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