In a presentation at the annual meeting of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, Donald Berry, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Applied Mathematics, looked at decades of breast cancer clinical trial experience and found that "the benefit of chemotherapy advances over the last 20 years to ER-negative patients has been surprisingly dramatic."
In examining the impact of chemotherapy treatment of node-positive breast cancer in three national clinical trials, which enrolled more than 6,000 patients cumulatively, Berry found that chemotherapy has reduced the risk of death in ER-negative patients by 56 percent. "The absolute benefit has been similarly impressive, especially in comparison with the corresponding absolute benefit of chemotherapy to ER-positive patients," he says.
The studies, conducted by the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) and the U.S. Breast Intergroup, all tested different chemotherapy regimens and doses in women whose cancer had spread to their lymph nodes, and all three showed statistically significant results. But, patients were treated "irrespective of hormone sensitivities or whether they had received tamoxifen or not," Berry says. In women who are ER-positive, tamoxifen and other SERMs (selective estrogen receptor modulators) have been shown to help prevent cancer development or recurrence.
The impact of such preventive treatments, however, was not "weighted" in these trials, he says. "People accept and act as though chemotherapy is equally beneficial independent of ER status," he says. In his analysis, Berry found that all three studies