Breast cancer treatment different for younger, older women

By David Self Newlin | Posted - Dec 18th, 2012 @ 11:05am

SALT LAKE CITY — Breast cancer in women under 35 is rare, but it is devastating and often more aggressive than similar cancers in older women. So doctors have been searching for some time to find a way to treat those young women who have the disease.

German researchers have found at least one answer - early, aggressive chemotherapy before an operation works better.

"This study suggests that chemotherapy is a good idea early on in younger patients," said Dr. Sibylle Loibl in an interview with HealthDay.

Loibl was the lead researcher in a study of almost 9000 German women with breast cancer, all of whom had operable cancer treated with chemotherapy before an operation.

In women younger than 35, nearly 24 percent responded well to the early, or "neoadjuvant," therapy before an operation, compared to only 16 percent in older women. They were also more likely to have a "pathologic complete response," meaning that the cancer is totally gone.

"Breast cancer in the very young woman seems to be different There is something behind age that drives the biology of the cancer and makes it more chemo-responsive," Loibl told Medscape.

Two kinds of tumors were especially responsive to the one-two punch of chemo followed by an operation: triple-negative tumors and luminal tumors, both of which are classified based on the cell receptors that can be found on the surface.

"I think the luminal-like patients, when they're very young, will be treated more often now with chemo," Loibl said. "For women with triple-negative tumors, it's reassuring; we can tell them you have an almost 50 percent chance that everything will be gone and you'll have an excellent survival."

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