Postmenopausal Women with Node Positive Breast Cancer May Not Benefit From Chemotherapy

SUMMARY: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US and about 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Approximately 284,200 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2021 and about 44,130 individuals will die of the disease, largely due to metastatic recurrence. Approximately 25% of patients with Hormone Receptor (HR)-positive, HER2-negative early breast cancer have metastatic lymph node involvement and two third of these patients are postmenopausal. Majority of these patients currently receive adjuvant chemotherapy.

The Oncotype DX breast cancer assay, is a multigene genomic test that analyzes the activity of a group of 21 genes and is able to predict the risk of breast cancer recurrence and likelihood of benefit from systemic chemotherapy, following surgery, in women with early stage breast cancer. Chemotherapy recommendations for early stage, HR-positive, HER-negative, early stage breast cancer patients, are often made based on tumor size, grade, ImmunoHistoChemical (IHC) markers such as Ki-67, nodal status and Oncotype DX Recurrence Score (RS) assay.

In the ground-breaking TAILORx (Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment) study which enrolled 10,273 patients with HR-positive, HER2-negative, axillary node-negative breast cancer, patients were divided into three groups based on their Recurrence Score. Patient with Intermediate Recurrence Score of 11-25 were randomly assigned to receive endocrine therapy alone or endocrine therapy and adjuvant chemotherapy. There was no benefit noted from adding chemotherapy to endocrine therapy, for women older than 50 years in this Intermediate RS group, suggesting that a significant percentage of women with node-negative breast cancer do not achieve substantial benefit from chemotherapy. For women 50 years old or younger who received chemotherapy and had a Recurrence Score of at least 16, there was a lower rate of distant recurrence, and the absolute benefit increased with increasing recurrence score. Further, the risk of recurrence and benefit of chemotherapy was further influenced by the tumor size and grade.

Whether the results of TAILORx can be extrapolated to women with node-positive breast cancer has remained unclear. It is estimated that approximately 85% of women with node-positive disease have Recurrence Score results of 0-25. The RxPONDER (A Clinical Trial RX for Positive Node, Endocrine Responsive Breast Cancer) trial was designed to determine the benefit of chemotherapy, in patients with HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer and 1-3 positive axillary lymph nodes (nodal stage N1), who had a Recurrence Score of 0-25. This trial did not include pre and postmenopausal women with Recurrence Score results 26-100, based on previously published studies suggesting that this patient group benefited from chemotherapy.

SWOG S1007 (RxPONDER) is an multicenter, international, prospective, randomized, Phase III trial, in which patients with HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer with 1-3 positive axillary lymph nodes were included, to determine which patients would benefit from chemotherapy and which patients could safely avoid it. In this study, a total of 5083 HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients with 1-3 positive lymph nodes and Oncotype DX Recurrence Score of less than 25 were randomly assigned 1:1 to receive chemotherapy plus endocrine therapy (N=2547) or endocrine therapy alone (N=2536). The median patient age was 57.5 years and approximately two-thirds of patients were postmenopausal and one-third were premenopausal and had no contraindications to taxane and/or anthracycline based chemotherapy. Patients were stratified by Recurrence Score (0-13 versus 14-25), menopausal status, and axillary nodal dissection versus sentinel node biopsy. The Primary endpoint was Invasive Disease Free Survival (IDFS), defined as local, regional, or distant recurrence, any second invasive cancer, or death from any cause, and whether the effect depended on the Recurrence Score. Secondary endpoints included distant Relapse Free Survival (RFS) and Overall Survival (OS).

At a median follow up of 6.1 years, the chemotherapy benefit with respect to increasing invasive DFS differed according to menopausal status. Among postmenopausal women, in this updated analysis with longer follow up, the invasive DFS at 5 years was 91.9% in the endocrine therapy alone group, and was 91.3% in those treated with chemotherapy plus endocrine therapy (HR=1.02; P=0.89). Postmenopausal women with recurrence scores of 0 to 25 continued to NOT benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy.

Among premenopausal women however, the invasive DFS at 5 years was 89% in the endocrine therapy alone group and 93.9% % in those treated with chemotherapy plus endocrine therapy (HR=0.64; P=0.004). There was a 5-year absolute benefit of 4.9% for invasive DFS with chemotherapy among premenopausal women. There was a similar increase noted in the distant Relapse Free Survival (HR=0.58; P=0.009). The relative chemotherapy benefit did not increase as the Recurrence Score increased.

It was concluded from this practice-changing study that postmenopausal women with HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer with 1-3 positive nodes and Oncotype DX Recurrence Score of 25 or less, can safely avoid receiving adjuvant chemotherapy, whereas premenopausal patients with 1-3 positive nodes and a Recurrence Score of 25 or less benefited from chemotherapy plus endocrine therapy and had a longer invasive Disease Free Survival and distant Relapse Free Survival, than those who received endocrine therapy alone.

21-Gene Assay to Inform Chemotherapy Benefit in Node-Positive Breast Cancer. Kalinsky K, Barlow WE, Gralow JR, et al. N Engl J Med 2021;385:2336-2347