Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in pre-treatment biopsies are associated with improved survival in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). We investigated whether higher peripheral lymphocyte counts are associated with lower breast cancer-specific mortality (BCM) and overall mortality (OM) in TNBC.Data on treatments and diagnostic tests from electronic medical records of two healthcare systems were linked with demographic, clinical, pathologic, and mortality data from the California Cancer Registry. Multivariable regression models adjusted for age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, cancer stage, grade, neoadjuvant/adjuvant chemotherapy use, radiotherapy use, and germline BRCA1/2 mutations were used to evaluate associations between absolute lymphocyte count (ALC), BCM and OM. For a subgroup with TILs data available, we explored the relationship between TILs and peripheral lymphocyte counts.1,463 Stage I-III TNBC patients were diagnosed from 2000-2014; 1113 (76%) received neoadjuvant/adjuvant chemotherapy within one year of diagnosis. Of 759 patients with available ALC data, 481 (63.4%) were ever lymphopenic (minimum ALC <1.0 K/µL). On multivariable analysis, higher minimum ALC, but not absolute neutrophil count, predicted lower OM (hazard ratio [HR]: 0.23, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.16-0.35) and BCM (HR: 0.19, CI: 0.11-0.34). Five-year probability of BCM was 15% for patients who were ever lymphopenic versus 4% for those who were not. An exploratory analysis (N=70) showed a significant association between TILs and higher peripheral lymphocyte counts during neoadjuvant chemotherapy.Higher peripheral lymphocyte counts predicted lower mortality from early-stage, potentially curable TNBC, suggesting that immune function may enhance the effectiveness of early TNBC treatment.
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