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J Clin Oncol. 1998 Aug;16(8):2672-85.

Effect of preoperative chemotherapy on the outcome of women with operable breast cancer.

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  • 1National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project Operations and Biostatistical Centers, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.



To determine, in women with primary operable breast cancer, if preoperative doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan; AC) therapy yields a better outcome than postoperative AC therapy, if a relationship exists between outcome and tumor response to preoperative chemotherapy, and if such therapy results in the performance of more lumpectomies.


Women (1,523) enrolled onto National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) B-18 were randomly assigned to preoperative or postoperative AC therapy. Clinical tumor response to preoperative therapy was graded as complete (cCR), partial (cPR), or no response (cNR). Tumors with a cCR were further categorized as either pathologic complete response (pCR) or invasive cells (pINV). Disease-free survival (DFS), distant disease-free survival (DDFS), and survival were estimated through 5 years and compared between treatment groups. In the preoperative arm, proportional-hazards models were used to investigate the relationship between outcome and tumor response.


There was no significant difference in DFS, DDFS, or survival (P = .99, .70, and .83, respectively) among patients in either group. More patients treated preoperatively than postoperatively underwent lumpectomy and radiation therapy (67.8% v 59.8%, respectively). Rates of ipsilateral breast tumor recurrence (IBTR) after lumpectomy were similar in both groups (7.9% and 5.8%, respectively; P = .23). Outcome was better in women whose tumors showed a pCR than in those with a pINV, cPR, or cNR (relapse-free survival [RFS] rates, 85.7%, 76.9%, 68.1%, and 63.9%, respectively; P < .0001), even when baseline prognostic variables were controlled. When prognostic models were compared for each treatment group, the preoperative model, which included breast tumor response as a variable, discriminated outcome among patients to about the same degree as the postoperative model.


Preoperative chemotherapy is as effective as postoperative chemotherapy, permits more lumpectomies, is appropriate for the treatment of certain patients with stages I and II disease, and can be used to study breast cancer biology. Tumor response to preoperative chemotherapy correlates with outcome and could be a surrogate for evaluating the effect of chemotherapy on micrometastases; however, knowledge of such a response provided little prognostic information beyond that which resulted from postoperative therapy.

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