Several reports have shown that less aggressive patterns of diagnostic activity and care are provided to elderly breast carcinoma patients. We sought to investigate whether differences in the management of older women with breast cancer are associated with survival.
Methods and Findings
In an observational study using a population-based clinical breast cancer register of one health-care region in Sweden, we identified 9,059 women aged 5084 y diagnosed with primary breast cancer between 1992 and 2002. The 5-y relative survival ratio was estimated for patients classified by age group, diagnostic activity, tumor characteristics, and treatment. The 5-y relative survival for breast cancer patients was lower (up to 13) in women 7084 y of age compared to women aged 5069 y, and the difference was most pronounced in stage IIBIII and in the unstaged. Significant differences in disease management were found, as older women had larger tumors, had fewer nodes examined, and did not receive treatment by radiotherapy or by chemotherapy as often as the younger women. Adjustment for diagnostic activity, tumor characteristics, and treatment diminished the relative excess mortality in stages III and in the unstaged, whereas the excess mortality was only marginally affected in stage IIB.
Less diagnostic activity, less aggressive treatment, and later diagnosis in older women are associated with poorer survival. The large differences in treatment of older women are difficult to explain by co-morbidity alone.