Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) treatment has changed substantially over time, but we do not know whether survival post-metastasis has improved at the population level.
We searched for studies of MBC patients that reported survival after metastasis in at least two time periods between 1970 and the present. We used meta-regression models to test for survival improvement over time in four disease groups: recurrent, recurrent estrogen (ER)-positive, recurrent ER-negative, and de novo stage IV. We performed sensitivity analyses based on bias in some studies that could lead earlier cohorts to include more aggressive cancers.
There were 15 studies of recurrent MBC (N = 18 678 patients; 3073 ER-positive and 1239 ER-negative); meta-regression showed no survival improvement among patients recurring between 1980 and 1990, but median survival increased from 21 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 18 to 25) months to 38 (95% CI = 31 to 47) months from 1990 to 2010. For ER-positive MBC patients, median survival increased during 1990-2010 from 32 (95% CI = 23 to 43) to 57 (95% CI = 37 to 87) months, and for ER-negative MBC patients from 14 (95% CI = 11 to 19) to 33 (95% CI = 21 to 51) months. Among eight studies (N = 35 831) of de novo stage IV MBC, median survival increased during 1990-2010 from 20 (95% CI = 16 to 24) to 31 (95% CI = 24 to 39) months. Results did not change in sensitivity analyses.
By bridging studies over time, we demonstrated improvements in survival for recurrent and de novo stage IV MBC overall and across ER-defined subtypes since 1990. These results can inform patient-doctor discussions about MBC prognosis and therapy.