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Breast Cancer Treatments Up Long-Term Survival

Study Says Chemotherapy, Hormone Therapy Responsible for Drop in Deaths

Tracking the Survival Advantage continued...

The impressive survival advantage seen in middle-aged, hormone-sensitive patients treated with six months of anthracycline-based chemotherapy and five years of tamoxifen confirms the value of this well-established treatment approach, Darby says. Examples of anthracycline drugs used for breast cancer include Adriamycin and Ellence.

"This is the largest analysis of randomized evidence ever done in any type of cancer," she says. "Because so many women in previous decades agreed to join these randomized trials, millions of women in future decades will benefit."

Findings Point to Cure

In an editorial accompanying the study, oncologist Stephen Chia, MD, and colleagues wrote that the findings provide strong evidence that follow-up chemotherapy and hormone therapy actually cure women of their breast cancer, rather than delaying the cancer's recurrence.

"It is now clear that these treatments cure a significant proportion of women with early-stage breast cancer," Chia tells WebMD. "When we look at breast cancer survival curves out to 15 years there is a significant difference between women who got chemotherapy vs. no chemo and women who got five years of tamoxifen vs. none," he says.

But Chia questions the value of continuing to follow this large group of women for another five years. Anthracycline-based chemotherapy and tamoxifen are still widely used, but Chia says researchers might learn more by including patients treated with newer drugs in future studies.

For example, recent studies have shown that newer hormone therapies, such as Arimidex and Femara, may be even more effective than tamoxifen.

"I think it would be useful to utilize this major resource to look at these newer treatments rather than updating the same treatment in five years," he says. "I'm not sure that we will see any added value at 20 years vs. 15."

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