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Clinical study on breast cancer treatment

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
October 17, 2008 3:10:36 PM PDT
One of the ways to treat early breast cancer is chemotherapy, but now there are new questions as to whether less chemotherapy can still yield similar results. Clinical trials, also referred to as patient studies, are always based on previous studies that show hopeful results for new therapies. For early stage breast cancer, doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have hit on a way to make chemotherapy faster and better.

On March 4, 54-year-old Sandy Eckstein found a lump in her right breast. It was cancer. It was early stage, but it required a mastectomy in April. She knew she needed chemotherapy. But doctors at Sloan-Kettering offered to make her part of a new study.

"Everyone told me I would be fine," she said. "I would be doing chemo every two weeks, as opposed to every three."

This was one of a couple of new patient studies, so-called clinical trials, designed to use the same amount of the chemo drugs in total, but to speed up the process of giving them.

"We have already shown that by giving the same dose of chemo in a shorter period of time, we increase the number of cancer cells we kill," Dr. Clifford Hudis said. "And we improve the outcomes."

That means less chance the cancer will return and better survival rates. In her trial, Sandy's course of chemo was two months shorter than the standard. She had no more side effects than seen in the regular course. And as a further benefit, she got an immune system boosting drug that reduced her risk of getting chemo-related infections.

These studies on faster courses of chemo are the result of years of research on thousands of women, done in previous clinical trials.

It gave doctors another idea, to use the drug Paclitaxel to treat early-stage cancer instead of a combination of two toxic drugs that can damage the heart and may cause other cancers. Paclitaxel has none of those risks, and the earlier trials found it worked as just as well. That idea is now a second new trial.

"This story, in part, is about the power of clinical trials and the need for participation, and that's the part where I become a zealot," Dr. Hudis said.

Dr. Hudis adds that because of all these preliminary trials with solid evidence of success, patients should never consider themselves guinea pigs when they sign up for a clinical study. As a matter of fact, breakthroughs come much faster when larger numbers of patients sign up for these trials.

For more information on clinical studies, visit MSKCC.org.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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