From the Journals

Breast cancer surgery timing matters, but is faster always better?



Most women with breast cancer undergo primary surgery within 8 weeks of diagnosis and any later may be associated with worse overall survival, according to findings from a case series.

With no national quality metrics delineating optimal breast cancer surgery timing, the researchers recommend surgery before 8 weeks from breast cancer diagnosis.

“This time interval does not appear to have a detrimental association with cancer outcomes and allows for multidisciplinary care,” the researchers, led by Alyssa A. Wiener, MD, from University of Wisconsin–Madison, said.

But, in an accompanying editorial, two surgical oncologists questioned whether faster surgery is always better.

“Efficiency might associate with quality, but doesn’t always ensure it,” Rita Mukhtar, MD, and Laura Esserman, MD, with the division of surgical oncology, University of California, San Francisco, said.

The study and editorial were published online in JAMA Surgery.

Optimal timing for surgery?

Some studies have found worse survival outcomes for women who experience delays between breast cancer diagnosis and surgical treatment, but the optimal window for surgery and the point at which surgery becomes less advantageous remain unknown.

Using the National Cancer Database, Dr. Wiener and colleagues identified 373,334 women (median age, 61) who were diagnosed with stage I to stage III ductal or lobular breast cancer from 2010 to 2014 and followed up through 2019.

All women underwent surgery as their first course of treatment. Patients with prior breast cancer, those who had neoadjuvant or experimental therapy or missing receptor information, and those who were diagnosed with breast cancer on the date of their primary surgery were excluded.

Most patients had timely surgery. The median time to surgery was 30 days, and 88% of patients underwent surgery before the 57-day time point.

Only 12% of patients had surgery more than 8 weeks after their diagnosis. Factors associated with longer times to surgery included age younger than 45, having Medicaid or no insurance, and lower household income.

The overall 5-year survival for the cohort was high at 90%. On multivariable analysis, the researchers found no statistically significant association between time to surgery and overall survival when surgery was performed between 0 and 8 weeks.

However, women who had surgery 9 or more weeks after diagnosis had a significantly higher rate of death within 5 years, compared with those who had surgery performed between 0 and 4 weeks (hazard ratio, 1.15; P < .001). Performing surgery up to 9 weeks (57-63 days) post diagnosis also did not appear to be negatively associated with survival.

This study “highlights that time to treatment of breast cancer is important,” said Sarah P. Cate, MD, director, Breast Surgery Quality Program, Mount Sinai Health System, New York, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Surgery is only one-third of the treatment of breast cancer, so these patients who had longer delays to the OR may have also not started their postsurgery treatments in time.”

In addition, the study found that socioeconomic status – Medicaid or uninsured status and lower household incomes – was associated with longer times to surgery.

“Socioeconomic factors like these may be independently associated with worse outcomes and may contribute to some of the disparities in cancer outcomes observed for resource-limited patients due to delayed care,” the authors said.

Identifying 8 weeks as a goal for time to surgery can help uncover delays associated with socioeconomic factors and provide adequate time for decision-making, the researchers noted.


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