Background: We compared characteristics and outcomes of palpable versus nonpalpable, hormone-sensitive, early-stage breast cancers. Methods: Patients from the North American Fareston vs. Tamoxifen Adjuvant (NAFTA) trial were divided into palpable (n = 513) and nonpalpable (n = 1063) tumor groups. Differences in pathological features, loco-regional therapy, disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS) were analyzed. Results: Patients with palpable tumors were older, had larger tumors, and higher rates of lymph-node involvement. The tumors were more likely to be poorly differentiated, of high nuclear grade, and display lymphovascular invasion. After mean followup of 59 months, DFS and OS were significantly lower for palpable than nonpalpable tumors (DFS 93.5% vs. 98.4%, p < 0.001, OS 88.5% vs. 95.6%, p < 0.001). Controlling for age, size and nodal status, palpability was an independent factor for DFS (OR = 2.56; 95%CI, 1.37–4.79, p = 0.003) and OS (OR = 2.12; 95%CI, 1.38–3.28, p < 0.001). Conclusions: In a group of hormone-sensitive, mostly postmenopausal early-stage breast cancer patients, palpable tumors were more likely to have more aggressive features and metastatic potential, which translated in to a higher incidence of breast cancer-related events and worse overall survival.
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