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Benefit of chemotherapy in breast cancer depends on estrogen-receptor status

HOUSTON - When it comes to chemotherapy treatment for women whose breast cancer has spread to their lymph nodes, the estrogen status of their tumors matters, says a team of researchers in the April 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Analyzing data from three clinical trials with a total of 6,644 patients, they determined that chemotherapy works much better in breast cancer that is estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) than many people think, and conversely, doesn't work as well in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) cancer as believed, says the study's lead author Donald Berry, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Applied Mathematics at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

This conclusion will come as a surprise to many oncologists, Berry says. Women with "node-positive" breast cancer routinely are given chemotherapy, regardless of their tumor type. Women who have ER+ tumors are also given tamoxifen, a drug which inhibits estrogen use by the cancer cells.

"Our analysis shows that tamoxifen works very well for a number of years and taken as a group, there is little or no benefit of even the cumulative effects of modern improvements in chemotherapy for women with ER+ tumors," he says.

"All in all, this is good news because it shows that the benefit of chemotherapy for ER- tumors is surprisingly dramatic in the same way that tamoxifen's effect is substantial for ER+ tumors," Berry says.

The research team, which includes investigators from top cancer centers nationwide, studied outcomes from three large randomized clinical trials which tested the optimal use of chemotherapy in node-positive breast cancer. But none of these trials, all of which were conducted by the Cancer and Leukemia Group B and the U.S. Breast Intergroup, considered estrogen status or whether women had received tamoxifen, largely because the diagnostic importance of estrogen status for chemotherapy was not recogn
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Contact: Nancy Jensen
nwjensen@mdanderson.org
713-794-1584
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
11-Apr-2006


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