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25.03.2020 | Breast Oncology

Trends in Surgical Axillary Management in Early Stage Breast Cancer in Elderly Women: Continued Over-Treatment

Annals of Surgical Oncology
MD MPH Raphael J. Louie, MPH Charles E. Gaber, PhD Paula D. Strassle, DO Kristalyn K. Gallagher, MD Stephanie M. Downs-Canner, MD David W. Ollila
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In the past two decades, three prospective randomized trials demonstrated that elderly women with early stage hormone positive breast cancer had equivalent disease-specific mortality regardless of axillary surgery. In 2016, the Choosing Wisely campaign encouraged patients and providers to reconsider the role of axillary surgery in this population. We sought to identify factors that contribute to adopting non-operative management of the axilla in these patients.

Materials and Methods

We performed a retrospective analysis of women ≥ 70 years old with cT1/T2, hormone positive invasive ductal carcinoma who underwent partial or total mastectomy, with/without axillary surgery, and did not receive adjuvant chemotherapy from the National Cancer Database from 2004 to 2015. We used multivariable log-binomial regression to model the risk of undergoing axillary surgery across region, care setting, and Charlson–Deyo scores, and analyzed temporal trends using Poisson regression. From 2004 to 2015, 87,342 of 99,940 women who met inclusion criteria (83%) had axillary surgery. Over time, axillary surgery increased from 78% to 88% (p < 0.001). This rise was consistent across region (p = 0.81) and care setting (p = 0.09), but flattened as age increased (p < 0.001). Omitting axillary surgery was more likely in patients treated in New England (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.86, 0.89) and patients ≥ 85 (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.65, 0.67).


Axillary surgery continues to be the preferred option of axillary management in elderly women with early stage, clinically node negative, hormone-positive, invasive breast cancer despite no survival benefit. Identifying factors to improve patient selection and dissemination of current recommendations can improve adoption of current evidence on axillary surgery in the elderly.

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