Various patient reported quality-of-life indicators are independently prognostic for survival in metastatic breast cancer and other cancers. The same measures recorded at first diagnosis of early breast cancer carry no corresponding prognostic information. The present study aims to assess at what time in the disease evolution the prognostic association appears.
Among 8024 patients enrolled in one of seven randomized controlled trials in early-stage breast cancer 3247 had a breast cancer relapse after a median follow-up of 12.1 years. Of these 677 had completed QL indicator assessments within defined windows 1, 2 or 3 months prior to relapse. We performed Cox regression analyses using these assessments and using identical instruments after relapse. All analyses were stratified by trial and adjusted for baseline clinicopathologic factors.
QL indicators in the months before relapse were not significantly prognostic for subsequent survival with the possibly chance exception of mood at the second month before relapse. After relapse, physical well-being was statistically significantly associated with survival (P < 0.001). This prognostic significance increased in later post-relapse assessments. Similar findings were observed using patient-reported indicators for nausea and vomiting, appetite, coping effort, and health perception.
Before cancer relapse, QL indicators were not generally prognostic for subsequent survival. After relapse, QL indicators substantially predicted OS, with a stronger association later in the course of relapsed disease. Simple patient perception of disease burden seems unlikely to explain this sudden change: rather the patient’s awareness of disease relapse must contribute.