• breast cancer;
  • molecular sub-types;
  • prediction;
  • prognosis;
  • chemotherapy

Breast cancer can be classified into molecular sub-types that have distinct survival patterns. We evaluated the prognostic significance of breast cancer sub-types in a cohort of women taking part in the NEAT and BR9601 clinical trials comparing cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and fluorouracil (CMF) with ECMF (epirubicin and CMF). Furthermore, we evaluated whether the sub-types were predictive of the added benefit of epirubicin in these trials. Tumour tissue microarrays were stained and scored for ER, PR, HER2, EGFR and CK5/6. These were used to classify the tumours into six intrinsic sub-types. We used Cox regression to compare overall survival (OS), breast cancer-specific survival (BCSS) and relapse-free survival (RFS) in the different sub-groups. We also compared the effect of ECMF with CMF by sub-group. Immunohistochemistry data were available for 1,725 cases of whom 805 were luminal 1-basal negative. Median follow-up time was 7 years. The luminal 1-basal negative tumours were associated with the best prognosis in five years after surgery and the HER2-like tumours were associated with the poorest prognosis. There was little evidence for significant heterogeneity of this effect by tumour sub-type (OS p = 0.40, BCSS p = 0.53 RFS p = 0.50) – the largest additional benefit of epirubicin was in women with tumours of the 5-negative phenotype (OS HR = 0.39 95% CI: 0.21–0.73) and the smallest was in Luminal 1-basal negative tumours (OS HR = 0.86 95% CI: 0.64–1.16). We confirmed that breast cancer sub-types show distinct behaviour with differences in short- and long-term survival. The benefit of ECMF over CMF was statistically similar in all disease sub-types.