“Deborah agreed to take part in a trial as she was keen to help other cancer patients in the future. "If taking part in a trial means others might be helped then I’m very happy with that."
A study looking at a health assessment for people with early breast cancer (FABIO)
This study looked at assessing older people with breast cancer to see if doctors could predict future fitness levels and likely side effects of treatment.
More about this trial
As people are living longer, more older people are being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment. More of these older patients are having surgery and being considered for treatments such as chemotherapy. But doctors can sometimes find it hard to predict who is going to cope well with treatment.
The aim of this study was to see if assessments that measure general health and fitness can predict future health in patients over 70 with early breast cancer.
Summary of results
This study recruited 326 women aged 70 and over with early stage breast cancer. Just over half of these women had cancer at a high risk of coming back in the future.
The research team used 8 different questionnaires to assess whether the women taking part could be classed as fit or unfit. This is called the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment, or CGA. Women who scored within the normal range for 7 out of the 8 questionnaires were classed as fit.
They had full results for 301 of the women who took part, and:
- 131 women (44%) were classed as fit
- 170 women (56%) were classed unfit
All the women taking part had treatment as usual. Neither they nor their doctor knew the individual results of this study, so the results did not affect their treatment plan.
Doctors usually treat breast cancer with surgery. All the women who were fit, and 9 out of 10 of the women who were unfit, had surgery to remove their cancer.
Doctors sometimes also give chemotherapy after surgery, to help stop the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
Of the 131 women classed as fit:
- 76 women (58%) had cancer at a high risk of coming back after surgery
- 39 of these 76 women (51%) had adjuvant chemotherapy
Of the 170 women classed as unfit:
- 91 women (54%) had cancer at a high risk of coming back after surgery
- 18 of these 91 women (20%) had adjuvant chemotherapy
This may be because the doctors didn’t feel the women were well enough to have chemotherapy. But they don’t routinely use a fitness assessment tool such as the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA) when deciding which treatment to use. The research team suggest that more women classed as fit could benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy.
The research team concluded that most women over 70 years old have surgery. But that more women classed as fit and with breast cancer at a high risk of coming back could have chemotherapy after their operation.
We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Dr Alistair Ring
Brighton and Sussex University NHS Trust Cancer Charitable Fund
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer