Is Breast Cancer in the Elderly An Indolent Disease?

Li Liu, MD
OncoLink Assistant Editor
Last Modified: October 25, 2000

Presenter: R. Singh
Affiliation: The University of Chicago Hospital, Chicago, IL


Among elderly women with early-stage breast cancer, age has a strong influence on treatment patterns, and many elderly women are not offered the full range of options. This is partly due to a long-held perception that breast cancer in elderly women is less aggressive as it is in younger women. In this study, the researchers assessed virulence or metastagenicity of women with breast cancer in different age groups.

Materials and Methods:

  • A total of 1430 patients (aged 41-91) treated with mastectomy between 1927 and 1987 were reviewed.

  • 182 women were older than 70 years old.

  • Median follow-up was 12.3 years.


  • In women with node-negative breast cancer, there was a significantly lower distant disease-free survival (DDFS) in patients 40-70 compared to those >70 (p=0.018).

  • For patients with node-positive disease, significant difference in DDFS was not seen between two age groups (p=0.2).

  • Virulence of the disease was similar across nodal group.

  • Metastagenicity was slightly higher in node- negative patients >70 (0.35 vs. 0.2).

Authors' Conclusions

Breast cancer did not appeared to be more indolent in women >70 years.

Clinical/Scientific Implications:

  • The treatment of breast cancer in elderly women should not be approached differently simply based on their age.

  • Further research and training are needed to provide care for the growing population of older women that is both clinically appropriate and consonant with a woman's preferences.