, Volume 10, Issue 3-4, pp 144-158
Date: 10 Apr 2009

Adjuvant Chemotherapy for Early Breast Cancer in the Elderly

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Opinion statement

The use of cytotoxic therapy in the fit elderly breast cancer patient has been tempered with concerns of age, physical function, and co-morbid illness. In the appropriate patient with biologically aggressive disease, such as receptor poor breast cancer, it is reasonable to consider combination chemotherapy as part of an adjuvant program. If this approach is to be employed, the physician must also consider the patient’s co-morbid conditions and status of function in society as potential indicators of toxicity or lack of benefit. In this case, a formal geriatric assessment is of value. A Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) trial of monotherapy vs combination cytotoxic therapy as adjuvant treatment for localized breast cancer patients over 65 years of age has determined that the combination approach is superior to single agent therapy. In an unplanned analysis of receptor rich and receptor poor tumors, the patients with receptor poor tumors seemed to achieve the greatest benefit from combination cytotoxic therapy. Adjuvant chemotherapy can also be considered for patients with high-risk receptor rich breast cancers. However, the use of chemotherapy in the elderly patient with breast cancer is largely based upon data emerging from trials in younger patients. Studies specifically for patients over 65 years of age are urgently needed in this population to provide evidence-based proof of the current approach.