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New Approaches to Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

From tweaking the size and timing of chemotherapy, to adjusting how it's administered, small improvements are making a big difference in women's lives.

WebMD Feature

The news just keeps getting better for women with breast cancer -- whether they're in the early or late stages of the disease.

While there hasn't been one particular breakthrough responsible for the change, Georgiana Ellis, MD, a professor of oncology at the University of Washington, Seattle, tells WebMD that "a number of small improvements seem to be adding up to a big improvement" in the prognosis for people battling breast cancer.

Some of the more interesting advances have been in chemotherapy -- the anti-cancer drugs that have been standard treatment for breast cancer for decades and are currently offered in combination with surgery and radiation. Chemotherapy remains a crucial component of breast cancer treatment and new techniques are making it more effective and easier to tolerate.

Old Drugs, New Tricks

Certainly, the discovery and use of new drugs has made a difference, but the biggest shift in chemotherapy may be in how these drugs are administered. "What we're trying to do is make relatively modest advances with the less-than-perfect medications we have now," says Andrew Seidman, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "We're teaching old dogs new tricks." The results, according to Seidman, are promising.

Ellis, from Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, agrees. For example, doctors are refining breast cancer chemotherapy by applying what they learn from treating patients with advanced cancer to those in earlier stages of the disease. If a medication works in slowing the growth of late-stage metastatic cancer, Ellis says, doctors now try to use it sooner because they want to use the best medications as early as possible.

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