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Breast Cancer Health Center

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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.

New Drugs

Of course, the significance of new medications shouldn't be underestimated. "One of the biggest changes we've had in chemotherapy is that we have new agents for breast cancer," says Ellis. Among them are Navelbine, Taxol, and Taxotere, which all work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. While they've proved effective in women fighting advanced breast cancer, they are also currently being studied for use in early breast cancer.

Outside of chemotherapy in the strict sense, hormonal treatments are also having an impact. One of the most exciting developments, says Ellis, has been the development of aromatase inhibitors, including Arimidex, Femara, and Aromasin and the monoclonal antibody, Herceptin.

Combination or Monotherapy?

Experts have long debated whether combination chemotherapy, a number of drugs administered simultaneously, is more or less effective than monotherapy, a single drug given at a time. Recent evidence suggests that it depends on the stage of cancer.

"Clearly," Seidman tells WebMD, "combinations are superior to single agents in adjuvant chemotherapy, which is chemotherapy following radiation or surgery. Experts are constantly tinkering with variations in these combinations to make them more effective and less toxic.

But in cases of metastatic breast cancer, where the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, Seidman points to numerous studies that indicate that using combination therapy is no better than using single drugs in a sequence. For instance, Seidman says that in the recent results of one study by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology group, using Taxol and doxorubicin Adriamycin together had no advantage over using them sequentially.

Despite the progress that's already been made, Ellis sees this as an area of great potential. "There's a lot more work to be done on dose scheduling and combinations," she says. But according to one theory, she says, "it's fiddling with all these little things that's contributing most to lowering the death rate."

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