In this study we utilized information obtained from more than 2000 operable breast cancer patients who had been entered since 1957 into the National Breast Project by 45 institutions. The purpose was to further evaluate the concept that the size of breast neoplasms influences patient prognosis. Only 5% of patients had tumors smaller than 1.0 cm, 48% were larger than 2.9 cm, and 28% exceeded 4.0 cm. The findings, when compared with those previously reported by others, suggest that little progress has been made since about 1950 relative to the removal of smaller breast tumors. Since these data are probably more nearly representative of the size of breast tumors at surgery in this country during the past decade than most other data that are available, they provide a baseline for the evaluation of the worth of a variety of recently employed and proposed diagnostic procedures. Results obtained categorically agree with current thinking that the larger the tumor the more likely that axillary nodes will be positive, that 4 or more rather than 1-3 nodes will be involved, and tumor recurrence and mortality rates will be greater. Such an unqualified statement, however, is an oversimplification of the findings, provides no indication of the magnitude of recurrence and mortality differences to be anticipated from tumors of various sizes, and should be accepted only with reservation. It is speculated, as a result of the data presented and certain assumptions, that if all tumors 2.0 cm or larger (70% of the total) had been removed when they were 1.0-1.9 cm in size, at the end of 5 years the recurrence rate for all patients entered might have only decreased by 10-18%, and the overall survival might have increased 11-20%. From certain considerations and the results obtained, it is concluded that size may not necessarily relate to “earliness” or “lateness” of a tumor, nor is it as consequential to the fate of the patient as are other factors relative to the tumor and /or host that may be present from its inception and which determine the development of metastases. Such a conclusion does not deprecate effort toward earlier diagnosis and tumor removal. It does emphasize, however, that the reasons for such an endeavor may be different from those generally considered at present.
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