PURPOSE: To determine if the long-term increase of recurrence for breast cancer is stable or slowly decreasing, or if it ever reaches zero; and to determine the effect of prognostic factors on the hazard of recurrence. METHODS: All patients entered onto the seven completed and unblinded Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) coordinated studies of postoperative adjuvant therapy for breast cancer were analyzed in terms of annual hazard of recurrence of breast cancer. RESULTS: For the entire group, the peak hazard of recurrence occurred in the interval of 1 to 2 years. The hazard decreased consistently in the interval of 2 to 5 years. Beyond 5 years, the hazard of recurrence decreased very, very slowly through year 12. The average hazard of recurrence between years 5 and 12 for the entire population was 4.3% per year. The pattern of a peak hazard of recurrence during the first 5 years with a slowly decreasing hazard of recurrence beyond 5 years was also observed to varying degrees in most subsets. Higher risk subsets such as patients with more than three nodes positive had a higher hazard of recurrence at all time intervals, while lower risk subsets such as patients with negative nodes had a lower hazard of recurrence in all time periods. CONCLUSION: Patients 5 years postsurgery for breast cancer appear to have a very slowly decreasing hazard of recurrence. The mean hazard of recurrence between years 5 to 12 postsurgery is 4.3% per year. This group of patients may be well suited for trials evaluating cytostatic drugs or differentiating agents.
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