A new Chinese retrospective study has reported that young women (under 36 years) have worse disease-free survival and overall survival than somewhat older, but still premenopausal, women (age 36 to 50 years). Young women with breast cancer are thought to have less favorable prognostic factors and worse outcomes. The study was designed to examine whether young age at diagnosis influences breast cancer outcomes independent of other prognostic factors. In other words, does a 30 year old women with a given set of breast cancer characteristics have the same or worse prognosis as a 40 year old woman with substantially identical breast cancer? The study included 551 breast cancer patients who were diagnosed at age 35 or younger and 551 women who were diagnosed between ages 36 and 50. The two groups of women were matched according to year of diagnosis, family history of breast cancer, tumor stage, hormone receptor status and adjuvant therapy.

Median disease-free survival was shorter among young patients (23.2 months) than among middle aged patients (28.4 months). Similarly, the five-year disease-free survival rate was lower among young patients (63.7%) compared to middle aged patients (74.7%), as was the overall survival rate (79.5% compared to 85.6%). The authors conclude that young age is an independent negative prognostic factor for operable breast cancer.

Comments regarding the study

While the survival rates reported appear worse than comparably aged U.S. patients, the study conclusions are consistent with previous reports. The findings suggest that breast cancer in young women tends to have aggressive characteristics even if standard prognostic characteristics do not appear to be particularly unfavorable. This in turn implies that treatment should also be aggressive.

Please see our article on how young breast cancer survivors can avoid a recurrence for more information.