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Five Versus More Than Five Years of Tamoxifen Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients With Negative Lymph Nodes and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Tumors
Fisher B, Dignam J, Bryant J, DeCillis A, Wickerham DL, Wolmark N, Costantino J, Redmond C, Fisher E, Bowman D, Couture J, Dimitrov N, Margolese R, Robidoux A, Shibata H, Terz J, Paterson A, Feldman M, Farrar W, Evans J, Lickely H
Journal of the National Cancer Institute 88:1529-42, 1996

Background: In 1982, the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project initiated a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial (B-14) to determine the effectiveness of adjuvant tamoxifen therapy in patients with primary operable breast cancer who had estrogen receptor- positive tumors and no axillary lymph node involvement. The findings indicated that tamoxifen therapy provided substantial benefit to patients with early stage disease. However, questions arose about how long the observed benefit would persist, about the duration of therapy necessary to maintain maximum benefit, and about the nature and severity of adverse effects from prolonged treatment.

Purpose: We evaluated the outcome of patients in the B-14 trial through 10 years of follow-up. In addition, the effects of 5 years versus more than 5 years of tamoxifen therapy were compared.

Methods: In the trial, patients were initially assigned to receive either tamoxifen at 20 mg/day (n = 1404) or placebo (n = 1414). Tamoxifen-treated patients who remained disease free after 5 years of therapy were then reassigned to receive either another 5 years of tamoxifen (n = 322) or 5 years of placebo (n = 321). After the study began, another group of patients who met the same protocol eligibility requirements as the randomly assigned patients were registered to receive tamoxifen (n = 1211). Registered patients who were disease free after 5 years of treatment were also randomly assigned to another 5 years of tamoxifen (n = 261) or to 5 years of placebo (n = 249). To compare 5 years with more than 5 years of tamoxifen therapy, data relating to all patients reassigned to an additional 5 years of the drug were combined. Patients who were not reassigned to either tamoxifen or placebo continued to be followed in the study. Survival, disease-free survival, and distant disease-free survival (relating to failure at distant sites) were estimated by use of the Kaplan-Meier method; differences between the treatment groups were assessed by use of the logrank test. The relative risks of failure (with 95% confidence intervals [CIs]) were determined by use of the Cox proportional hazards model. Reported P values are two-sided.

Results: Through 10 years of follow-up, a significant advantage in disease-free survival (69% versus 57%, P less than .0001; relative risk = 0.66; 95% CI = 0.58-0.74), distant disease-free survival (76% versus 67%, P less than .0001; relative risk = 0.70; 95% CI = 0.61-0. 81), and survival (80% versus 76%, P = .02; relative risk = 0.84; 95% CI = 0.71-0.99) was found for patients in the group first assigned to receive tamoxifen. The survival benefit extended to those 49 years of age or younger and to those 50 years of age or older. Tamoxifen therapy was associated with a 37% reduction in the incidence of contralateral (opposite) breast cancer (P = .007). Through 4 years after the reassignment of tamoxifen-treated patients to either continued-therapy or placebo groups, advantages in disease-free survival (92% versus 86%, P = .003) and distant disease-free survival (96% versus 90%, P = .01) were found for those who discontinued tamoxifen treatment. Survival was 96% for those who discontinued tamoxifen compared with 94% for those who continued tamoxifen treatment (P = .08). A higher incidence of thromboembolic events was seen in tamoxifen-treated patients (through 5 years, 1.7% versus 0.4%). Except for endometrial cancer, the incidence of second cancers was not increased with tamoxifen therapy.

Conclusions and Implications: The benefit from 5 years of tamoxifen therapy persists through 10 years of follow-up. No additional advantage is obtained from continuing tamoxifen therapy for more than 5 years.

National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, Pittsburgh, PA.