BACKGROUND: Locally advanced breast cancer (LABC) is characterized by the presence of a large primary tumour (>5 cm) associated with or without skin or chest-wall involvement (T4) or with fixed (matted) axillary lymph nodes in the absence of any evidence of distant metastases. These cancers are classified as stage IIIA and IIIB according to the AJCC Staging System. Treatment of choice involves combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or hormonal therapy. Current guidelines recommend primary surgery or neoadjuvant therapy followed by surgery. The primary objective of this study was to compare the outcome of LABC patients subjected to neoadjuvant chemotherapy before surgery and those who underwent surgery as the primary treatment and to determine prognostic predictors. Secondary objectives were to evaluate the response after neoadjuvant therapy and to determine the treatment compliance rate.
METHODS: This retrospective study of Stage III breast cancer patients was conducted over a 5 year period from 1998 to 2002. The survival data were obtained from the National Registry of Births and Deaths with the end-point of the study in April 2006. The Kaplan Meier method was applied for survival analysis. Cox regression analysis by stepwise selection was performed to identify important prognostic factors.
RESULTS: Out of a 155 evaluable patients, 74 (47.7%) had primary surgery, 62 (40%) had neoadjuvant chemotherapy, 10 patients (6.5%) were given Tamoxifen as the primary treatment, while 9 patients (5.8%) defaulted any form of treatment. After neoadjuvant chemotherapy, 9 patients defaulted further treatment, leaving 53 evaluable patients. Out of these 53 evaluable patients, 5 patients (9.4%) had complete pathological response, 5 (9.4%) a complete clinical response, and 26 (49.1%) had partial response after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The 5-year survival in the primary surgery group was 56.7 % compared to 44.7% in the neoadjuvant chemotherapy group (p<0.01). The important prognostic factors were race, size of tumour, nodal status, estrogen receptor status and response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
CONCLUSION: Patients who had primary surgery had better survival than those who underwent neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which may be due to bias in the selection of patients for neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Out of a total of 155 patients, 25.1% defaulted part of the treatment, or did not receive optimal treatment, emphasizing the importance of psychosocial support and counselling for this group of patients.