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Women who have distant metastatic disease upon diagnosis of breast cancer still benefit from removal of the primary tumor. In fact, these patients survive significantly longer than those who do not undergo surgery, according to the results of a study presented on September 22, 2009 at Europe’s largest cancer congress, ECCO 15-ESMO 34, in Berlin.[1]

Patients diagnosed with Stage IV or metastatic breast cancers have disease that has spread from the affected breast to one or more distant sites in the body. Approximately 3-10% of patients have distant metastatic disease upon initial diagnosis of their cancer. Historically, these patients are treated palliatively—to provide relief from symptoms and prolong the duration and quality of life—as their disease is considered incurable. Typically, surgical removal of the primary tumor is only recommended if it is causing symptoms; however, recent studies have indicated that there may be a benefit to removing these tumors.

Researchers in the Netherlands performed a retrospective analysis of 728 women who had distant metastatic disease upon diagnosis of breast cancer, 40% of whom had undergone surgical removal of the primary tumor. The results of the analysis showed that patients who underwent surgery survived significantly longer than those who did not—31 months versus 14. Furthermore, the five-year survival rate among patients who underwent surgery was 24.5% compared with 13.1% for patients who did not have surgery.

The researchers concluded that removing the primary tumor in women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer appears to prolong survival and improve quality of life; however, the disease remains incurable.

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[1] Ruiterkamp J, Ernst MF, van de Poll-Franse LV, et al. Surgical resection of the primary tumour is associated with improved survival in patients with distant metastatic breast cancer at diagnosis. European Journal of Cancer Supplements, Vol. 7, No. 3, September 2009. Abstract O-5005.

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