Huge decreases in the risk of breast cancer relapse over the last three decades

S.M.E. Geurts, J.A.A.M. van Dijck, F. de Vegt, Y. Paquay, Sabine Siesling, A.L.M. Verbeek, V.C.G. Tjan-Heijnen

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Introduction The aim of this study was to evaluate local and systemic breast cancer control by comparing the risk of relapse in breast cancer patients in 2003–2004 with that in 1972–1979 and in 1980–1986. Methods About 8,570 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2003–2004 were selected from the population-based Netherlands Cancer Registry and compared with 133 patients treated in 1972–1979 and 174 in 1980–1986. Five-year risk of relapse was calculated by the Kaplan–Meier method. Cox-proportional hazard models were applied to adjust for tumour size, nodal status and age at diagnosis. Results Patients diagnosed in 2003–2004 had smaller tumours and a less advanced nodal stage than patients diagnosed in 1972–1986. In 1972–1979, 1980–1986 and 2003–2004, treatment included mastectomy in 94%, 72% and 47%; postmastectomy radiotherapy in 75%, 70% and 30%; chemotherapy in 9%, 14% and 37% and hormonal therapy in 3%, 3% and 42% of patients, respectively. Five-year risk of locoregional and distant recurrence decreased from 37% and 34% to 15%, respectively. The 5-year risk of second primary breast cancer did not differ and was 1%, 4% and 2%, respectively. The improved relapse-free survival in patients diagnosed in 2003–2004 as compared with 1972–1979 hardly changed after adjustment (HR = 0.38, 95% CI = 0.28–0.52). Conclusion Over the last decades, local breast cancer therapies have become less rigorous, whereas systemic therapy use has increased. Simultaneously, the risk of breast cancer relapse has tremendously decreased. Future novel therapies may lead to such small additional decreases in relapse rates, while the long-term side effects in breast cancer survivors will increase
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages8
JournalOA epidemiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • METIS-296761
  • IR-86374


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