Berlin, Germany: Researchers in Belgium have discovered that increasing age affects the way breast cancer behaves. As women approach the age of 70, they become less likely to be diagnosed with aggressive tumours that have spread to the lymph nodes. But after 70, the cancer is increasingly likely to spread, particularly if the tumours are small.
Until now, there has been conflicting evidence on aging and lymph node involvement and this study is the first to show clearly how the link between the two changes before and after the age of 70.
Professor Hans Wildiers told the 6th European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC-6) in Berlin today (Friday), that he suspects that women older than 70 have decreased immune defence mechanisms, which are less able to deal with tumours that are likely to metastasise to other sites in the body.
The effect of age of lymph node positivity is not straightforward. There seems to be a different effect between women aged up to 70 years and women older than 70. For the younger group of women, age appears to have a negative effect on lymph node status the older they become, the less likely the cancer is to have spread to the lymph nodes. For the older group of women (aged over 70), age appears to influence lymph node status in the opposite way the older they become, the more likely they are to have cancer cells in the lymph nodes if the tumour is small, said Prof Wildiers, who is adjunct head of clinic in the department of general medical oncology at the Multidisciplinary Breast Centre, University Hospitals Leuven, Belgium.
There is an interaction between age and tumour size, suggesting that, up to the age of 70, age mainly has a positive effect on lymph node status for older women with small tumours. A likely explanation is that breast tumours metastasise less frequently to lymph nodes with increasing age due to the decreased biological aggressiveness in these tumours. On the other hand, over the age of
|Contact: Emma Mason|
ECCO-the European CanCer Organisation