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INTRODUCTION: Conformity with treatment guidelines should benefit patients. Studies have reported variation in adherence to breast cancer (BC) guidelines, particularly among older women. This study investigated (i) whether adherence to treatment guideline recommendations for women with non-metastatic BC improves overall survival (OS), (ii) whether that relationship varies by age. METHODOLOGY: MEDLINE and EMBASE were systematically searched for studies on guideline adherence and OS in women with non-metastatic BC, published after January 2000, which examined recommendations on breast surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or endocrine therapy. Study results were summarised using narrative synthesis. RESULTS: Sixteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The recommendations for each treatment covered were similar, but studies differed in their definitions of adherence. 5-year OS rates among patients having compliant treatment ranged from 91.3% to 93.2%, while rates among patients having non-compliant treatment ranged from 75.9% to 83.4%. Six studies reported an adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) for non-compliant treatment compared with compliant treatment; all concluded OS was worse among patients whose overall treatment was non-compliant (aHR range: 1.52 [1.30-1.82] to 2.57 [1.96-3.37]), but adjustment for potential confounders was limited. Worse adherence among older women was reported in 12/16 studies, but they did not provide consistent evidence on whether OS was associated with treatment adherence and age. CONCLUSIONS: Individual studies reported that better adherence to guidelines improved OS among women with non-metastatic BC, but the evidence base has weaknesses including inconsistent definitions of adherence. More precise and consistent research designs, including the evaluation of barriers to adherence across the spectrum of healthcare practice, are required to fully understand guideline compliance, as well as the relationship between compliance and OS following a BC diagnosis.

Original publication




Journal article


Cancer Treat Rev

Publication Date





Breast cancer, Guideline adherence, Overall survival, Aged, Breast Neoplasms, Female, Guideline Adherence, Humans, Proportional Hazards Models