Author(s): Fisher B
The current findings completely affirm the validity of our original observations indicating the appropriateness of grouping primary breast cancer patients into those with negative, 1 to 3, or greater than or equal to 4 positive nodes. Results, however, reveal that there is a risk in combining all patients with greater than or equal to 4 positive nodes into a single group. Since there was a 25% greater disease-free survival and an 18% greater survival in those with 4 to 6 than in those with greater than or equal to 13 positive axillary nodes, such a unification may provide misleading information regarding patient prognosis, as well as the worth of a therapeutic regimen when compared with another from a putatively similar patient population. Of particular interest were findings relating the conditional probability, i.e., the hazard rate, of a treatment failure or death each year during the 5-year period following operation to nodal involvement with tumor. Whereas the hazard rate for those with negative, or 1 to 3 positive nodes, was relatively low and constant, in those with greater than or equal to 4 positive nodes the risk in the early years was much greater, but by the fifth year it was similar to that occurring when 1-3 nodes were involved, and not much different from negative node patients. The same pattern existed whether 4 to 6 or greater than or equal to 13 nodes were positive. When the current findings are considered relative to other factors with predictive import, it is concluded that nodal status still remains the primary prognostic discriminant.