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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Stage IIIB, Inoperable IIIC, IV, Recurrent, and Metastatic Breast Cancer

Inoperable Stage IIIB or IIIC or Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Multimodality therapy delivered with curative intent is the standard of care for patients with clinical stage IIIB disease. In a retrospective series, approximately 32% of patients with ipsilateral supraclavicular node involvement and no evidence of distant metastases (pN3c) had prolonged disease-free survival (DFS) at 10 years with combined modality therapy.[1] Although these results have not been replicated in another series, this result suggests such patients should be treated with the same intent.

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Initial surgery is generally limited to biopsy to permit the determination of histology, estrogen-receptor (ER) and progesterone-receptor (PR) levels, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2/neu) overexpression. Initial treatment with anthracycline-based chemotherapy and/or taxane-based therapy is standard.[2,3] In one series of 178 patients with inflammatory breast cancer, DFS was 28% at 15 years with a combined-modality approach.[2][Level of evidence: 3iiiDii] For patients who respond to neoadjuvant chemotherapy, local therapy may consist of total mastectomy with axillary lymph node dissection followed by postoperative radiation therapy to the chest wall and regional lymphatics. Breast-conserving therapy can be considered in patients with a good partial or complete response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy.[3] Subsequent systemic therapy may consist of further chemotherapy. Hormone therapy should be administered to patients whose tumors are ER-positive or unknown. All patients should be considered candidates for clinical trials to evaluate the most appropriate fashion in which to administer the various components of multimodality regimens.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IIIB breast cancer, stage IIIC breast cancer and inflammatory breast cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

Stage IV, Recurrent, and Metastatic Breast Cancer

Recurrent breast cancer is often responsive to therapy, though treatment is rarely curative at this stage of disease. Patients with localized breast or chest wall recurrences, however, may be long-term survivors with appropriate therapy. Prior to treatment for recurrent or metastatic cancer, restaging to evaluate extent of disease is indicated. Cytologic or histologic documentation of recurrent or metastatic disease should be obtained whenever possible. The ER levels and PR levels, HER2/neu positivity at the time of recurrence, and previous treatment should be considered, if known, when selecting therapy. ER status may change at the time of recurrence. In a single small study by the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (MDA-MBDT-8081), 36% of hormone receptor-positive tumors were found to be receptor negative in biopsy specimens isolated at the time of recurrence.[4] Patients in this study had no interval treatment. If ER and PR status is unknown, then the site(s) of recurrence, disease-free interval, response to previous treatment, and menopausal status are useful in selecting chemotherapy or hormone therapy.[5]

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