University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Breast Cancer Surgery in Frail Elderly Women Linked to Poor Results

UCSF Researchers Recommend Hormonal Therapy or Symptom Management in Older Nursing Home Residents

By Scott Maier | UCSF.edu | August 29, 2018

Breast Cancer Surgery in Frail Elderly Women Linked to Poor Results

In a study appearing Aug. 29, 2018, in JAMA Surgery, UCSF researchers found that 58 percent of women who resided in a nursing home for more than 90 days before breast cancer surgery experienced significant functional decline one year after surgery. The study found that women with functional impairment in their daily activities prior to treatment had the highest rates of one-year mortality and functional decline. Patients with prior cognitive impairment also had higher rates of functional decline after one year.

“Surgery often cures the cancer, but can have a negative impact on elderly patients’ everyday activities and worsen their quality of life,” said lead author Victoria Tang, MD, MAS, assistant professor of geriatrics and of hospital medicine at UCSF and the affiliated San Francisco VA Health Care System. “This study shows that for frail, elderly patients, breast cancer care should be individualized and goal-oriented, with the option of only providing hormonal therapy or symptom management, instead of surgery.”

Breast cancer surgery is the most common cancer operation performed in nursing home residents, constituting 61 percent of procedures. More than half of nursing home physicians report encountering residents with suspected breast cancer, and about two-thirds of those are referred for diagnosis or treatment.

In the JAMA Surgery study, Tang and her colleagues used 2003-2013 claims from all U.S. Medicare nursing homes to review data for 5,969 women ages 67 and older who had lived in a nursing home for at least 90 days and who underwent inpatient breast cancer surgery. In this group (83 percent white, 57 percent cognitively impaired), 61 percent (3,661) of the patients received the most invasive treatment, known as axillary lymph node dissection with lumpectomy or mastectomy (ALND). Another 28 percent (1,642) received a mastectomy, and 11 percent (666) underwent the least invasive lumpectomy. Researchers examined 30-day and one-year mortality, hospital readmission rates, and functional status in activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing and using the bathroom.

The researchers noted that the rates were high for 30-day readmission (16 percent overall, 15 percent ALND, 14 percent mastectomy, 26 percent lumpectomy) and all-cause mortality at 30 days (3.2 percent overall, 2 percent ALND, 4 percent mastectomy, 8.4 percent lumpectomy) and one year (31 percent overall, 29 percent ALND, 30 percent mastectomy, 41 percent lumpectomy).

“The highest mortality rate was associated with the least invasive procedure, lumpectomy, which appeared to be performed in the sickest patients,” Tang said. “A higher mortality rate is somewhat expected due to advanced age and increased co-morbidities present in nursing home residents. However, a 30-day mortality of 8 percent is much higher than would be anticipated for a surgical procedure that is generally considered very low risk.”

 

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