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Commentary: Pregnancy, neoadjuvant treatment, and sexual function after BC diagnosis, June 2023

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Erin Roesch, MD

Breast cancer (BC) diagnosis in young women presents unique challenges, including fertility and future childbearing which may be affected by treatment type and duration. Endocrine therapy (ET) is recommended for 5-10 years in women diagnosed with hormone receptor–positive (HR+) BC, and this period often falls within the timeframe that pregnancy and family planning are being considered. Retrospective data show that pregnancy after BC diagnosis does not negatively affect BC outcomes.1,2 The POSITIVE trial (Partridge et al), designed to evaluate the safety of temporary interruption of ET to attempt pregnancy, included 516 premenopausal women ≤ 42 years of age with stage I-III HR+ BC who had received ET for 18-30 months. At a median follow-up of 41 months, 44 patients in the treatment-interruption group had a BC event, which was within the prespecified safety threshold (46 events). The incidence of BC events was not higher among patients who interrupted ET compared with an external control cohort from the SOFT/TEXT trial (adjusted hazard ratio 0.81; 95% CI, 0.57-1.15). The 3-year incidence of BC events and distant recurrences in the treatment-interruption group (8.9% and 4.5%) were similar to those in the external cohort (9.2% and 5.8%). In the POSITIVE trial, 368 patients (74.0%) reported pregnancy and 317 women had at least one live birth. These results demonstrate the short-term safety of interruption of ET among young women with HR+ early BC for attempts at conceiving and enhance both patient and provider knowledge regarding this issue. Longer-term follow-up will be crucial to further inform this strategy.

The advantages of neoadjuvant therapy (NAT), including the downstaging of the primary tumor/nodal burden and assessment of the tumor biology via response to chemotherapy, can have prognostic and therapeutic implications in the adjuvant setting. Additionally, trials in the neoadjuvant space allow rapid assessment of new agents that can help patients gain access to these therapies in an expedited fashion. Three-year outcomes from the neoadjuvant I-SPY2 trial have shown that achievement of pathologic complete response (pCR) after NAT is associated with an approximately 80% reduction in recurrence rate, regardless of molecular subtype or treatment regimen (including various novel therapy combinations).3 An analysis of individual data from 3710 patients with human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)–positive early BC from 11 neoadjuvant trials evaluated additional prognostic factors to better characterize pCR (van Mackelenbergh et al). A total of 1497 patients (40%) had pCR, and these patients had improved event-free survival (hazard ratio 0.39; P < .001) and overall survival (hazard ratio 0.32 P < .001) compared to those with residual disease after NAT. Among patients who had pCR, tumor size at presentation (cT1-2 vs cT3-4) and nodal status (cN0 vs cN+) were independent prognostic factors for event-free survival (hazard ratio 0.67 [P = .007] and 0.72 [P = .039], respectively). These data support the role of pCR as an indicator of outcome post-NAT and, furthermore, identify additional features beyond pCR that can affect recurrence risk. It is valuable to take these other factors into account when considering patients for adjuvant therapies, even in the context of pCR.

Advances in detection modalities and treatments have led to improved survival after BC diagnosis, and as a result, more women in the survivorship setting are experiencing side effects that affect quality of life. The prevalence of sexual dysfunction is variable, perhaps owing to how this variable is defined and reported, and includes symptoms of low libido, dyspareunia, vaginal dryness, and anorgasmia.4 Chang and colleagues performed a population-based study evaluating sexual dysfunction among a cohort of 19,709 BC survivors ≥ 18 years of age from the Utah Cancer Registry and 93,389 cancer-free women matched by age and birth state from the general population. BC survivors had a higher risk for sexual dysfunction (hazard ratio 1.60; 95% CI 1.51-1.70) compared with the general population, and this effect was more prominent within 1-5 years after diagnosis (hazard ratio 2.05; 95% CI 1.89-2.22) and in those < 50 years of age (hazard ratio 3.05; 95% CI 2.65-3.51). Furthermore, BC survivors who received chemotherapy and ET had an increased risk for sexual dysfunction (hazard ratio 1.16 and 1.46, respectively). These findings underscore the importance of recognition and communication regarding survivorship issues, such as sexual health, which can affect medication adherence, quality of life, and outcomes for patients.

Additional References

  1. Lambertini M, Blondeaux E, Bruzzone M, et al. Pregnancy after breast cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Oncol. 2021;39:3293-3305. doi: 10.1200/JCO.200535
  2. Anderson RA, Lambertini M, Hall PS, et al. Survival after breast cancer in women with a subsequent live birth: Influence of age at diagnosis and interval to subsequent pregnancy. Eur J Cancer. 2022;173:113-12 doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.20206.048
  3. I-SPY2 Trial Consortium. Association of event-free and distant recurrence-free survival with individual-level pathologic complete response in neoadjuvant treatment of stages 2 and 3 breast cancer: three-year follow-up analysis for the I-SPY2 adaptively randomized clinical trial. JAMA Oncol. 2020;6:1355-1362. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2535
  4. Panjari M, Bell RJ, Davis SR. Sexual function after breast cancer. J Sex Med. 2011;8:294-302. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.0203x

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