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Keywords:

  • breast carcinoma;
  • tumor size;
  • metastasis;
  • survival;
  • mammography

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Tumor size has long been recognized as the strongest predictor of the outcome of patients with invasive breast carcinoma, although it has not been settled whether the correlation between tumor size and the chance of death is independent of the method of detection, nor is it clear how tumor size at the time of treatment may be translated into a specific expectation of survival. In this report, the authors provide such a method.

METHODS

A Kaplan–Meier survival analysis was carried out for a population of 1352 women with invasive breast carcinoma who were treated at the Van Nuys Breast Center between 1966 and 1990, and the data were analyzed together with survival data published by others.

RESULTS

The authors found that the survival of patients with invasive breast carcinoma was a direct function of tumor size, independent of the method of detection. The results showed that the correlation between tumor size and survival was well fit by a simple equation, with which survival predictions could be made from information on tumor size. For example, a comparison of three large populations studied over the last 5 decades revealed a marked improvement (≈ 35% absolute) in the survival of patients with invasive breast carcinoma diagnosed on clinical grounds that could be ascribed to a reduction in tumor size. However, the capacity of screening mammography to find smaller tumors remains the best way reduce breast carcinoma deaths, with the potential for adding an additional ≈ 20% absolute reduction in breast carcinoma deaths. The mathematic correlation between tumor size and survival is consistent with a biologic mechanism in which lethal distant metastasis occurs by discrete events of spread such that, for every invasive breast carcinoma cell in the primary tumor at the time of surgery, there is approximately a 1-in-1-billion chance that a lethal distant metastasis has formed.

CONCLUSIONS

The correlation between tumor size and lethality is well captured by a simple equation that is consistent with breast carcinoma death as the result of discrete events of cellular spread occurring with small but definable probabilities. Cancer 2002;95:713–23. © 2002 American Cancer Society.

DOI 10.1002/cncr.10742