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Jpn J Clin Oncol. 1998 Oct;28(10):597-600.

Detection of the first recurrence during intensive follow-up of breast cancer patients.

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Division of Breast Surgery, National Cancer Center Hospital East, Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan.



Breast cancer patients are routinely followed after primary treatment. Many intensive diagnostic methods (tumor markers, chest X-ray, mammography, liver echography, bone scans) are performed periodically. However, it remains to be determined how often attempts should be made to detect the first recurrence of breast cancer by these methods.


To evaluate the effect of imaging diagnosis and tumor markers, we analyzed methods of detection of first recurrence sites during intensive follow-up of breast cancer patients.


Of 550 female patients who had been surgically treated between July 1992 and December 1996, 65 recurrent cases had been diagnosed as of December 1997. Thirty cases (46%) had been found as a result of symptoms related to the site of recurrence and 14 cases (22%) were detected by physical examination. In the remaining 21 cases (32%), detection was by other methods: in eight cases by imaging diagnosis, in three cases based on abnormal tumor markers and in 10 cases by imaging diagnosis and abnormal tumor markers. Twenty-nine cases (45%) followed every 1-3 months had presented with symptoms at routine or interval appointments. There was a significant difference between first recurrence sites (loco-regional, bone and viscera) and the methods of detection (symptoms, physical examination and other diagnostic methods) (P < 0.0001). However, no statistical difference in overall survival after operation was observed between the 30 cases found as a result of symptoms and the 35 cases detected by physical examination or other diagnostic methods.


Taken together with ASCO's surveillance guidelines (J Clin Oncol 1997;15:2149-56), intensive follow-up of breast cancer patients should be limited to high-risk breast cancer patients, especially those who enter randomized clinical trials. A careful history and physical examination are in practice indicated every 3-6 months for 3 years and then every 6 months for the following 2 years.

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