Conference Coverage

Young women opt for mastectomy even when neoadjuvant chemo works well



– Response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy has little if any influence on the choice of surgery among young women with early-stage breast cancer, suggests a multicenter, prospective cohort study reported at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Dr. Hee Jeong Kim

Randomized, controlled trials have found high levels of mastectomy among patients who are eligible for breast-conserving surgery, according to first author Hee Jeong Kim, MD, PhD, a visiting scholar at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and an associate professor in the division of breast in the department of surgery at the University of Ulsan, Seoul, South Korea.

“Young women are more likely to present with large tumors and particularly benefit from a neoadjuvant systemic approach,” she noted. “Recent data suggest that response rates, including pathological complete response, are higher in women younger than 40 than in older women, but little is known about how response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy influences surgical decisions in young women.”

The investigators studied 315 women aged 40 years or younger at diagnosis of unilateral stage I-III breast cancer who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Results showed that the chemotherapy doubled the proportion who were eligible for breast-conserving surgery, but 41% of all women eligible after neoadjuvant chemotherapy opted to undergo mastectomy, and the value was essentially the same (42%) among the subset who achieved a complete clinical response. The leading reason given in the medical record for this choice was personal preference in the absence of any known high-risk predisposition.

“Surgical decisions among young women with breast cancer appear to be driven by factors beyond the extent of disease and response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy,” she commented. “We should focus our efforts to optimize surgical decisions in these patients.”

The study complements another study undertaken in the same cohort, also reported at the symposium, that assessed longer-term quality of life according to which surgery women chose; this quality-of-life study found poorer measures after mastectomy.

Drivers and explanatory factors

Session moderator Fatima Cardoso, MD, director of the Breast Unit at the Champalimaud Clinical Center in Lisbon, asked, “Do you think this is really the patient preference, or is this more the surgeon’s preference that is passed on to the patient? Because there is now data showing that breast conservation with radiation is better, even in terms of survival, than mastectomy.”

“Patient preference includes a variety of things. Maybe it is a real patient preference [driven by] fear of recurrence or their peace of mind, but another important factor is maybe the doctor, especially the surgeon. That’s why we should be aware of surgical overtreatment, especially in these young early breast cancer patients,” Dr. Kim replied. “But the good news from this study is that neoadjuvant chemotherapy can give options to the patients, they can choose mastectomy. I think that it’s totally different when the patient has no option other than mastectomy versus the patient can choose mastectomy.”

Two main groups of patients in the United States are being given neoadjuvant chemotherapy, noted session attendee Steven E. Vogl, MD, an oncologist at Montefiore Medical Center, New York. One group has large tumors, and the goal is to shrink the tumor; the other group is planning to have unilateral or bilateral mastectomy with some type of reconstruction by a plastic surgeon.

“The medical oncologist, having decided the [latter] patient needs chemotherapy, chooses to give the chemotherapy preoperatively, so it’s not delayed by 3-5 months for the wounds to heal,” he elaborated. “How many of your patients were in the second category?”

The study did not tease out that population, Dr. Kim replied.

Study details

The women studied were participants in the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Study (YWS). Some 67% had a clinical complete response (no palpable tumor in the breast) to their neoadjuvant chemotherapy, and 32% had a pathological complete response (no tumor in the breast, with or without ductal carcinoma in situ [DCIS], and no tumor deposit exceeding 0.2 mm in the lymph nodes).

Before neoadjuvant chemotherapy, 26% of the women overall were eligible for breast-conserving surgery, but after neoadjuvant chemotherapy, 42% were eligible, Dr. Kim reported.

However, in the entire cohort, breast-conserving surgery was the initial surgery in just 25% of women and the final (definitive) surgery in just 23%.

Among patients eligible for breast conservation after neoadjuvant chemotherapy, 41% chose mastectomy instead as their initial surgery. Response to the chemotherapy seemingly did not influence this choice given that 42% of the subset with a clinical complete response still chose mastectomy. Furthermore, among those eligible for breast conservation who underwent mastectomy, 35% had a pathologic complete response to the chemotherapy.

Of all patients eligible for breast-conserving surgery who opted for mastectomy (and usually a bilateral procedure), the most common reason for choosing this more extensive surgery was personal preference, documented in 53% of cases, followed by presence of a BRCA or p53 mutation or a strong family history, documented in 40%. Reasons were similar among the breast conservation–eligible women who had a clinical complete response and/or ultimately a pathological complete response but chose mastectomy.

The study did not analyze disease factors that may have influenced choice of surgery, such as multicentricity or presence of DCIS, acknowledged Dr. Kim, who disclosed that she had no relevant conflicts of interest.

In an exploratory analysis, use of neoadjuvant chemotherapy increased over time among YWS participants, from 23% among those with diagnosis in 2006-2007 to 44% among those with diagnosis in 2014-2015. There were concurrent improvements in the proportions who achieved a clinical complete response (from 64% to 77%) and a pathological complete response (from 23% to 34%). Yet the proportion undergoing breast-conserving surgery as their initial surgery fell slightly, from 21% to 19%, during the same period.

SOURCE: Kim HJ et al. SABCS 2018, Abstract GS6-01,

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