Follow-up strategies for women treated for early breast cancer

  • Rojas M
  • Telaro E
  • Moschetti I
  • et al.
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BACKGROUND: Follow-up examinations are commonly performed after primary treatment for women with breast cancer. They are used to detect recurrences at an early (asymptomatic) stage. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness of different policies of follow-up for distant metastases on mortality, morbidity and quality of life in women treated for early breast cancer. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Breast Cancer Groups specialised register, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register ( Cochrane Library Issue 4, 1999), MEDLINE (January 1975-September 1999) and EMBASE (1988-September 1999) using "Breast Neoplasms" and "follow-up". References from retrieved articles were also checked, as were the lists of presentations from recent breast cancer meetings. SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the effectiveness of different policies of follow-up after primary treatment were reviewed for inclusion. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers independently assessed trial quality and eligibility for inclusion in the review. Data were pooled in an individual patient data meta-analysis for the two RCTs testing the effectiveness of different follow-up schemes. Subgroup analyses by age, tumour size and lymph node status before primary treatment are also presented. MAIN RESULTS: Four RCTs involving 3204 women with early breast cancer (clinical stage I, II or III) have been included. Two RCTs involving 2563 women compared follow-up based on clinical visits and mammography with a more intensive scheme including radiological and laboratory tests. After pooling the data, no significant differences in overall survival (hazard ratio 0.96, 95% confidence interval 0.80 to 1.15) or disease-free survival (hazard ratio 0.84, 95% confidence interval 0.71 to 1.00) emerged. No differences in overall survival and disease-free survival emerged in subgroup analyses according to patient age, tumour size and lymph node status before primary treatment. One RCT (296 women) compared follow-up performed by a hospital-based specialist to follow-up performed by general practitioners. No significant differences in time to detection of recurrence and quality of life emerged. One RCT (196 women) compared regularly scheduled follow-up visits to less frequent visits restricted to the time of mammography. No significant differences emerged in interim use of telephone and frequency of GP's consultations. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Follow-up programs based on regular physical examinations and yearly mammography alone appear to be as effective as more intensive approaches based on regular performance of laboratory and instrumental tests in terms of timeliness of recurrence detection, overall survival and quality of life. In one RCT, follow up care performed by general practitioners had comparable effectiveness to that delivered by hospital based specialists in terms of quality of life and time to detection of distant metastases.




Rojas, M. P. M., Telaro, E., Moschetti, I., Coe, L., Fossati, R., Liberati, A., & Rosselli, M. D. T. (2000). Follow-up strategies for women treated for early breast cancer. In Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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