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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer Drug Triggers Lung Disease

WebMD Health News

Dec. 4, 2001 -- Woman with early-stage breast cancer often receive chemotherapy. But a new study shows that one chemotherapy drug in particular appears to increase the risk of lung inflammation, and researchers suggest using it with caution.

Taxol is a relatively new drug in the world of breast cancer treatment. Some studies have suggested that women with cancer that has spread to their lymph nodes might do better with Taxol, but this has not yet been proven.

Taxol is often used along with radiation treatments since it's thought the drug might enhance the radiation's effects. Researchers have now found, however, that the combination may cause more problems than it solves.

Lead researcher Alphonse G. Taghlan, MD, and colleagues looked at 41 women who'd received both chemotherapy, including Taxol, and radiation. They wanted to see if a lung problem -- called radiation pneumonitis -- was more common with Taxol.

Radiation pneumonitis is lung inflammation that occurs from radiation. It develops about eight weeks after completing a course of radiation. Chemotherapy increases the chance of having this problem. Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing, and a severe, dry cough.

Many people improve gradually over a few weeks. But when the disease is severe, strong anti-inflammatory steroids are often used, with uncertain benefit. Typically, the affected area of the lung scars and shrinks with time, and X-ray shows loss of usable lung space.

Radiation pneumonitis is normally rare, but the researchers found that it was much more common in women who received Taxol.

The results are published in the Dec. 5 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Just 1% of women who'd received radiation and chemotherapy without Taxol developed radiation pneumonitis, compared with nearly 15% of those given Taxol.

The researchers say this finding is highly significant and suggest that Taxol be used with caution, especially since Taxol has not been shown to have any clear benefit.

Future research will help women with breast cancer and their doctors determine the real risk of Taxol. In the meantime, you can use these findings as an opportunity to discuss the available treatment options with your doctor.

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