Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Drugs Aging. 2008;25(1):35-45.

Early breast cancer in the elderly: assessment and management considerations.

Author information

  • 1Hôpital Geriatrique Antoine Charial, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Programme Lyonnais d'Onco-gériatrie (PROLOG), Francheville, France.


Breast cancer is a common tumour in the elderly and management of early disease in particular is a major challenge for oncologists and geriatricians alike. The process should begin with the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA), which should be undertaken before any decisions about treatment are made. The important role of co-morbidities and their effect on life expectancy also need to be taken into account when making treatment decisions. The primary treatments for early breast cancer are surgery, adjuvant radiotherapy and adjuvant systemic therapy. Unfortunately, lack of a specific literature relating to early breast cancer in the elderly means formulating an evidence-based approach to treatment in this context is difficult. We have developed a new approach based on the CGA and comprehensive oncological assessment. This approach facilitates the development of an individualized oncogeriatric care plan and follow-up based on several considerations: the average patient's life expectancy at a given age; the patient's co-morbidities, level of dependence, and the impact of these considerations on diagnostic and therapeutic options as well as life expectancy; and the potential benefit-risk balance of treatment. In the elderly patient with breast cancer, the standard primary therapy is surgical resection (mastectomy or breast-conserving therapy). While node dissection is a major component of staging and local control of breast cancer, no data are available to guide decision-making in women aged >70 years. Primary endocrine therapy (tamoxifen) should be offered to elderly women with estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer only if they are unfit for or refuse surgery. Trials are needed to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of aromatase inhibitors as primary therapy for infirm older patients with ER-positive tumours. Breast irradiation should be recommended to older women with a life expectancy >5 years, particularly those with large tumours, positive lymph nodes or negative hormone receptors. Adjuvant hormone therapy remains a reasonable therapeutic option in elderly women with positive hormone receptor tumours. Aromatase inhibitors have demonstrated a better toxicity profile and effectiveness as adjuvant therapy than tamoxifen in young postmenopausal women but have not been specifically studied in the elderly population. The efficacy of adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer has been established by meta-analysis and numerous randomized trials but, again, women aged > or = 70 years have rarely been included in such trials. At present, it is difficult to provide a validated recommendation for use of adjuvant chemotherapy in elderly patients with breast cancer. There are no follow-up recommendations specifically for elderly patients after treatment of early breast cancer. However, American Society of Clinical Oncology breast cancer surveillance guidelines suggest physician office visits every 3-6 months for 3 years, followed by visits every 6-12 months for 2 years, then annually. Women taking aromatase inhibitors should also undergo bone mineral density measurement every 2 years. The new approach to assessment and management of early breast cancer in the elderly outlined in this article should be considered an intermediate step because additional evidence to support clinical practice is still needed. Bearing this in mind, physicians should encourage enrollment of elderly breast cancer patients in clinical trials.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk