Follow-Up Strategies and Detection of Recurrent Breast Cancer in the Modern Era

Document Type : Research Articles


1 Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.

2 Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.


Background: Regular history assessments and physical examination with annual breast imaging have been recommended as the standard surveillance protocol for breast cancer patients who underwent curative-intent therapy. Based on randomized studies conducted in the 2000s, surveillance with regular chest or abdominal imaging, chemistry panels, or tumor marker measurements does not improve survival in such patients. Given the remarkable recent improvements of systemic therapy, we hypothesized that more intensive surveillance may lead to early detection and improve treatment outcomes in the modern era. Methods: We retrospectively evaluated the follow-up strategies and benefits of investigations used in usual practice. Breast cancer patients who had initial adjuvant therapy were recruited and classified according to the receipt of standard follow-up (history, physical examination, and annual breast imaging) or alternative follow-up (surveillance with at least annual chest or abdominal imaging or biannual liver function testing). The primary outcome was overall survival. Secondary outcomes included disease-free survival and the indicator of recurrence detection. Results: Of 412 recruited patients, 213 (51.7%) and 199 patients (49.3%) were included in the standard follow-up group and alternative follow-up group, respectively. Among 90 patients (21%) with disease recurrence, the most frequent indicators of recurrence were newly reported symptoms or physical examination abnormalities (64%), followed by abnormal breast imaging (23%) and abnormal chest X-ray (10%). After a median follow-up of 85 months, approximately 90% of patients remained alive after 5 years in both groups. The mean overall survival was similar between the standard and alternative follow-up groups (154.5 months vs. 151.9 months, p = 0.54). There was no difference in terms of the proportion of interval visits, specific cancer treatment received, and disease-free survival. Conclusion: Standard follow-up with history assessments, physical examination, and annual breast imaging remains the recommended surveillance strategy in the modern era. Alternative follow-up strategy did not improve oncologic outcomes. 


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