The primary aim of treatment of a patient who has developed metastatic disease is palliation. The objectives of the current study are to describe and quantify the clinical management of women with metastatic breast cancer from the diagnosis of metastatic disease until death and to analyze differences between age groups.
Data were collected from the medical files of all patients (n = 116) who had died after December 31, 1999, after a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in two teaching hospitals in the south of the Netherlands.
Of the 116 patients included in our study, 10 (9%) already had metastatic disease at diagnosis and 106 developed distant disease after the diagnosis of localized breast cancer. Before they died, 70% of the 116 patients developed metastases in one or more bones, 50% in the lung and/or pleura, 50% in the abdominal viscera, 23% in the central nervous system, and 19% in the skin. Patients younger than 50 years were much more likely to develop metastases in the central nervous system than patients 50 years and older. Seventy-seven (66%) of the 116 patients with metastatic breast cancer received chemotherapy. This proportion decreased with age (p = 0.005), as did the number of schemes per patient. Together, they received 132 chemotherapy schemes, of which 35 (27%) resulted in partial remission or stabilization of the disease process. Ninety-eight patients (84%) received hormonal treatment. This proportion did not differ between the three age groups. Together, they received 216 hormonal treatments, 38 (16%) of which resulted in partial remission or stabilization of the disease process. Seventy-nine patients (68%) received palliative radiotherapy. This proportion decreased with age (p = 0.03). Together, they underwent 216 courses, 176 (77%) of which resulted in relief of the complaints.
Patients aged 70 years and older are less likely to receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Part of this difference could be explained by their shorter survival time after the diagnosis of metastatic disease and their lower risk of developing brain and bone metastases. However, more research is needed to understand the age-related differences in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, and especially how comorbidity and frailty limit therapeutic choices.